Exclusive: Distributors tweak windows amid growing demand, prep for MIPCOM impact

Peep Show

Distributors have seen an “upturn” in demand from broadcasters and streamers as measures to reduce the spread of Coronavirus result in captive audiences at home, with rights windows being tweaked to satisfy buyers’ requirements.

Ratings giant Nielsen yesterday said housebound users could stream 60% more video during the pandemic, while Nordic streamer Viaplay has reported a surge in viewing over the past week, as audiences look for in-house entertainment options.

Demand grows as gaps emerge

Elin Thomas

“There is definitely an upturn in demand at the moment,” Elin Thomas, EVP of sales at DRG, tells TBI. “It’s across the board, but we have especially noticed requests from broadcasters with sports rights who are going to have gaps in the schedule sooner rather than later.”

Tim Mutimer, CEO at Banijay Rights and head of distribution at Banijay Group, says he too is preparing for increased demand of finished tape as the impact of the virus hits productions, with the creation of hundreds of shows around the world now paused.

“If you look at the countries where the Coronavirus hit first, production has been impacted. In the initial phase, broadcasters move to news programming, but our assumption is that this will change over time and our clients will be looking for strong content that they can schedule to fill the gaps left as local productions go on hiatus.”

Sarah Tong, director of sales at Hat Trick International, adds that she has experienced an increase in demand for comedy and entertainment programming. “That’s what people are definitely now looking for – hard hitting factual is probably going to suffer.”

Thomas says that DRG “is being approached for long-running, uplifting, escapist and familiar programming in which people can take a degree of comfort in at this time. From our current catalogue, examples include series such as Peep Show and Shameless in drama, and Don’t Tell The Bride in factual entertainment.”

Sarah Tong

Tong added that Hat Trick had “not really noticed any differences to windowing – yet” but Thomas says her company is preparing for buyers looking for shortened license periods to cover the duration of the virus’s impact.

“We anticipate shorter windows and more non-exclusive deals to happen over the next few weeks as we work to service as many gaps as possible in our clients’ schedules,” she says. “We are already facilitating second windows and re-licenses of content that has local versions prepared and therefore can be slotted in easily.”

‘A new equilibrium

The DRG exec added that an impact on distribution is inevitable and all three execs have conceded that they are expecting the impact to be felt on new programming launches at MIPCOM in October.

“With the delay of shows not yet in production or halfway through production, it will mean some delays to MIPCOM launches – although we’ve got quite a few in the can that we’ll still be able to launch,” Tong says, pointing to new drama Bloodlands, starring James Nesbitt, as one example.

She added, however, that while delays for shows planned to launch at MIPCOM were on the cards there could also be an impact longer-term on programming originally destined to be rolled out at NATPE Miami in January or even MIPTV.

Tim Mutimer

“Those who are relying on and bankrolling new productions or who have only small catalogues will certainly feel things in the short-term while we establish a new equilibrium,” continues Thomas. “DRG has an extensive catalogue, is a nimble international business, and therefore is well-placed to help clients fill their immediate schedule gaps during this global crisis.

“In addition, prior to this crisis we were already developing a number of new archive-based engineering and history factual series with selected producers for our own co-commissioning strategy. These shows can be made remotely, without a production crew on the ground, so we are hopeful of progressing with these and quickly getting them into the marketplace.”

Mutimer added that the Banijay slate for MIPCOM “is already looking strong” with a number of scripted shows in post-production.

“There will certainly be a drop-off in supply at some point, but our catalogue has always comprised of both Banijay Group and third-party productions to bolster our content pipeline. The hope is that things will get back to normal sooner rather than later and I’m sure that the industry will work hard to recoup the time that has been lost as soon as they can.”

Caution on the cards

MIPCOM 2019

Thomas suggests that the focus at MIPCOM may well be on pre-sales and co-productions, adding that she expects a ‘wait and see’ attitude to emerge as the economic slowdown hits.

“It will take some time to get the production sector back up and running after a shutdown and for money to start circulating after the economic freefall that is already happening. I anticipate a degree of caution down the line from everyone, with an initial focus on cheaper and quicker studio productions being first out of the starting blocks as and when things start to return to normal.

“Much has been said in recent months about the huge amounts of content in the marketplace, driven by SVODs, and where the tipping point might be with ever more platforms launching. Well, it may have arrived.

“If millions of people worldwide are out of work for any length of time, I would guess that subscriptions, as luxuries, might be cut, with only the strongest/most cash-rich surviving. In turn, this could see more people stuck at home returning to free-to-aor linear broadcasters – even if for a large helping of repeats – potentially enabling them to establish/re-establish relationships with a broader audience.”

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