Newen fast-tracks English expansion with Reel One acquisition

Newen Group’s acquisition of Reel One Entertainment sees the TF1 Group-backed producer-distributor look to crack the English-speaking market and exploit European IP in the US, Canada and UK.

The deal marks the French firm’s first concrete move into the English-speaking market, having previously acquired the likes of Denmark’s Nimbus, as well as Dutch formats firm Tuvalu, Dutch feature film and drama producer Pupkin and Belgian drama outfit De Mensen.

By buying Reel One – which is best known for TV movies but has a growing footprint in the drama space – the business has linked with an English-speaking partner that can fast-track access to the US, UK and Canadian markets and, crucially, bolster relationships with talent.

Romain Bessi, MD of Newen Group, tells TBI that there is a “strong distribution benefit” in combining Reel One’s catalogue which is “obviously strong in English-speaking TV movies and [increasingly] strong in English-speaking drama” with its own slate, which is rich in European drama, animation and documentaries.

He adds: “We did Versailles, which was very ambitious [by] French standards and it was English-speaking. But it can be quite hard to find the right writers, actors and directors when your operations are in France or other non-English speaking countries, so the fact that Reel One is in the UK, Canada and the US and has connections with talent is obviously something we like.”

However, arguably more important are the myriad opportunities to exploit IP.

“We think this is a great opportunity to give a second life to certain IP in the Anglo-Saxon space, either through remakes or co-productions. Newen and Reel One complement each other pretty well in that space, as already demonstrated with De Mensen,” explains Bessi.

Indeed, Reel One has been working with De Mensen on an English-language remake of Belgian drama series Team Chocolate (Tytgat Chocolat), for which it swooped for format rights last year.

“We have lots of IP and Reel One has a lot of IP, and we can adapt their IP in Europe and they can work on our IP in the Anglo-Saxon market,” says Bessi.

The former Studiocanal and TF1 Group exec, who joined Newen in June 2018, says the business will next look to expand in markets such as Spain and Italy, as well as the UK “to a small extent”.

In May 2017, Newen launched a $55m investment fund for British drama with plans to partner on three to four high-end drama series. However, the fund never got off the ground, with the business changing tack to only deficit fund certain drama projects, which it will continue doing, says Bessi.

Reel One Entertainment boss Tom Berry, who founded the Montreal-headquartered business in 2001, adds that Reel One’s “extensive production system” in Canada and the US will further facilitate drama exportation.

“Not every project developed in Europe is appropriate [for remakes] in the US and Canada, but there are some, so there will be opportunities to co-produce or develop those series or movies which benefit from a Canadian or US background,” he says.

Dominic Schreiber, a global drama executive with Reel One who first spotted Team Chocolate at a festival three years back and brought it to the firm, says the businesses are now beginning to explore what projects between them will lend themselves to collaboration.

“We’re just starting to get to know some of the other producers, and we are at the beginning of that process of saying, ‘What do we have in development? Where does it make sense to team up and co-produce?’ and try and adapt existing IP and find ambitious projects that cross borders,” he says.

Golden age for TV movies

Berry notes that the merger, which sees Newen taking a majority stake in Reel One for an undisclosed sum, will also help the business grow its TV movie footprint, which has been a mainstay of the company for a number of years.

“This is a second golden age for the TV movie, so we’re expanding that part of the business,” says Berry.

“Broadcasters are increasingly realising the value proposition of the TV movie in certain slots. If you look at what’s happened in France, TF1 moved from one TV movie slot in the afternoon to two, and that’s significant because that’s a doubling of the volume of TV movies. You see that happening in Canada, in the US and in other territories.”

Berry acknowledges that TV movies are a “relatively small part” of the overall market, but “it’s a rapidly growing part and we have a big share in that”.