What aspect of the drama business gives you most cause for concern as you look ahead to 2020?
I’m most concerned by the battle for writers. With so much opportunity it is a veritable gold rush for good writers, but with the increasing market consolidation there is a lot of blanket “buying up” of talent from the SVODS, and even the terrestrials. This is a challenge for indie companies but, at the same time, I still passionately believe that with the pairing of a savvy, passionate producer and a writer whose skill they champion, we can still cut through and find those distinctive voices which audiences around the world crave, and make projects which will deliver for commissioners.
And what excites you the most about the next 12 months?
The massive opportunity for quality drama. There has never been a better time develop and make drama – the bar just keeps getting higher, which encourages us all to push boundaries and make our best work. That invitation to excel excites me hugely.
What change in the scripted business during 2019 most surprised you?
The surprise for me has been in the emergence of short-form as a format the market is really up for, but then any trip on public transport will demonstrate how hungry people are for content and stories to lift them out of their everyday lives and provide escapism. This is perhaps also a reflection and response to the oversupply of long-form content in the market.
What has been the most overlooked aspect of the scripted business of the past few years, and how will this affect your part of the business in 2020?
In the rush for high-end and high price content, from a commercial perspective, the appeal of long-running, modest cost drama has perhaps been overlooked. The right story can be compelling if conceived in a way that is conducive to more challenging budgets, and if the concept is commercial and international enough it can offer strong upside, without having to repay huge deficit advances first. Diverse voices are also still overlooked, as are those mid-level writers who are ready to break through.
2020 looks set to be a watershed year for short-form. How will this part of the content business look in a year’s time?
Short-form has great potential as a medium both in and of itself and also as a way to pilot bigger ideas or create a proving ground for longer form series at a reasonable budget level. I don’t think that this will meaningfully impact the appetite for more full-length television content though. It has a place alongside it in the content eco-system as opposed to a replacement for it. There is a push for short-form as a way to capture younger audiences and I think it will continue to grow – it’s also easier to take a risk on new voices through a short-form project so it’s a great platform in that sense for new talent.
How do you predict the commissioning behaviour of streamers and broadcasters will change over the next 12 months?
There’s going to be intense competition with some of the incumbent dominant players like Netflix facing the clout and reach of platforms like Disney+ and Apple, which is creating an even bigger push for the most expensive, attention grabbing content. More and more smaller/mid-scale series will be left behind in this market. I’m curious to see whether traditional broadcasters will be able to step up and create a meaningful alternative for producers by offering higher license fees or by collaborating with a number of public broadcasters.
What will be the biggest challenge for producers during 2020?
Getting series made with the budget levels that are currently being discussed and once you do, actually getting them seen by audiences. There is such a volume of programming vying for consumers at any one time that it’s imperative to have marketing and publicity campaigns and talent support to raise the profile of your work and ensure it isn’t overlooked on release. On the one hand streamers offer enormous potential and a push for creativity, but it’s important to maintain a diverse range of outlets and for us not to become completely dependent on them. We don’t want everyone to just become line producers for streaming giants.
How important are distributors to your current business and how will that change over the course of the next 12 months?
Their role has definitely changed: they are coming in earlier and supporting projects in different ways. They also are a healthy part of creating partnerships globally to get shows made and our strategy is to work with everybody – combining distributor relationships with going directly to streamers in certain cases. Everyone is finding new ways to work together.