Given the year that Banijay CEO Marco Bassetti has just had, he’s looking pretty relaxed speaking to TBI from the production giant’s office in Paris.
Earlier this year, his company completed the $2.2bn acquisition of Endemol Shine Group and became the biggest non-broadcaster affiliated producer-distributor in the world.
The numbers are regularly wheeled out – 120+ production companies across 22 territories, with a catalogue of more than 88,000 hours – but Bassetti says that the clear scale play he has just delivered is only one side of the story.
‘Lean & mean’
“We don’t want a company with a big infrastructure in each country we operate, we prefer independence while giving everything to the producers that they need,” Bassetti says of the MasterChef and Survivor firm, adding that he has a “lean and mean” operation at group level, something apparent from the numerous board-level changes enacted over recent months.
That independence, even on such a large scale, seems to lie squarely at the centre of Banijay’s strategy. It makes comparisons against rivals – such as RTL-owned Fremantle or ITV Studios – tricky, but allows the France-headquartered firm the flexibility to “customise deal by deal, country by country.”
And while Banijay – backed by French giant Vivendi and Banijay chairman Stéphane Courbit’s Financière LOV – is keen to focus on its independent nature, it comes at a time when much of the industry is consolidating – not least the vertically aligned US studios, with their intent focus on launching DTC streamers fuelled by their own IP.
Despite the implications of that approach on Banijay, the launch of Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock et al continue to offer opportunities as they seek content to fill gaps caused by pandemic-affected productions. And if – perhaps when – those services are able to be largely supported via shows from their own production operations, the Banijay CEO argues that there are plenty of local streamers, as well as broadcasters, that can keep his company in good fettle.
“There are still mixed strategies between being a studio and going DTC, I’m not sure if that will work in future but for me we will soon have more clarity about who can be a distributor and who can be just a studio.
“And then, there is a totally different story when we go into non English-language countries. In Asia, Europe and South America, there are many more local SVODs – in France we have Salto, there’s ITV Hub in the UK, and in Germany there’s JOYN and Discovery+ and that’s just Europe.”
For the global streamers, however, Bassetti is keen to fight hard on several fronts – not least ensuring his company doesn’t simply become a “line producer” for the giant SVODs.
“Sometimes the streamers tend to have producers acting like a line producer, where they dictate creativity and grab all the IP,” he says. “For me it is a mistake not just for us but for them too.”
Such an approach clearly impacts Banijay’s own bottom line but, he argues, it also stifles creativity – and provides an opportunity for his company to offer an alternative environment where creatives can work on a variety of projects that can be offered to an array of buyers.
This has been embraced by Banijay in Germany, where the business is headed by Marcus Wolter, who leads firms such as Brainpool, Banijay Productions, Good Times and Lucky Pics. Its slate ranges from ProSieben’s version of Masked Singer to RTL’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Das Erste’s Tatort Weimar Und Tatort Dresden.
“We invest in talent, give them an entrepreneurial environment and they can be their own boss on their own ship,” says Wolter, who was previously CEO at Endemol Shine’s German operations before joining Banijay in 2018. “Those talents can be creative in their own world and that’s why they like to become partners with us.
“The boutiques under the Banijay group live their own culture. They live their individual spirit and have their own DNA and that means we don’t expect that a company doing fiction has the same culture as doing an unscripted show for Netflix. That is a really big difference with rivals.”
Wolter adds that the pandemic has helped to accelerate change, particularly with his market, which has become a hotbed of activity over recent months with the entrance of companies such as Leonine.
German scripted and unscripted series have always been unique, Wolter continues, but the increase in online communication over the past nine months has meant that ideas can move quickly from Banijay’s German base in Cologne to London, LA and elsewhere.
“The hits do not only come from the Netherlands or the UK anymore either,” he adds – “they’re coming from South Korea like Masked Singer, which we produce in Germany. We have huge, diverse broadcasters with their own online entertainment platforms such as JOYN – that offers great potential.”
AVOD & rights retention
Wolter and Bassetti are also both bullish about rights, and the Banijay CEO says he will fight hard to retain as many as possible, even against the might of the global streamers.
In turn of course, that allows Banijay Rights, headed up by former Endemol Shine International CEO Cathy Payne, to capitalise on secondary sales and myriad other deals, but it also means that the company can continue to embrace AVOD.
That strategy was already underway when Banijay bought Endemol Shine, but further deals this year have seen shows such as Gracepoint, Peaky Blinders, MasterChef and McLeod’s Daughters all being placed onto ad-supported streamers around the world.
“AVOD is definitely becoming a source of great value for our catalogue,” Bassetti says, “it’s huge and we’re investing more in these services. In the future there will be more AVODs, it’s a very valuable model.
“We already have very significant business with services like IMDb and Pluto TV and we would like to increase our business with them. It is good for us because there is competition too,” he says, adding that the company is also customising edits and clips for AVOD streamers. “That can help [content] to become a little bit more exclusive, and give us another upside. It is a fantastic opportunity.”
Despite that giant catalogue that could offer shows ranging from Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders to Big Brother and The Wall, Bassetti says there is no chance of Banijay going DTC with its own SVOD however. “We don’t want to compete with our clients, we want to remain agnostic – and not be owned by a big media group,” he says.
Unscripted focus & expansion
Another definitive is that the balance of power at Banijay will continue to lean towards unscripted content. At present, scripted makes up only around 25% of the firm and Bassetti says he has no reason to change that.
“If we look carefully, [streamers] have invested on many scripted shows that very few subscribers are watching, so now they are trying to be more selective. For us that is perfect, we have several scripted companies in the group and we want to invest in these but in the future there will be more balance – and not just with the streamers but with broadcasters too.
“There is momentum now with everyone moving a lot of investment and energy into scripted and that is the focus for many. We want to be in scripted but primarily we want to be unscripted.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have scripted companies because we have more than many of our competitors but unscripted can generate very easy cashback – and money from that can be used for other investment, including scripted.”
That could be headed to Germany, where dramas such as Netflix’s Dark have helped to open doors for the country’s scripted product around the world. Dark’s producer Wiedemann & Berg TV was acquired by Leonine from Endemol Shine last year but Wolter adds that there is now a “big opportunity” for Banijay to partner with German scripted talent, both established and emerging, and offer uniquely domestic stories to international audiences.
Meanwhile, further acquisitions – of both companies and IP – remain on the cards and Bassetti adds that he has signed numerous Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) over recent months.
“If there is an opportunity to acquire a good company or piece of IP or talent then we will pursue it. We did it before the Endemol acquisition with Bear Grylls,” he points out, another sign that Bassetti’s Banijay growth plan has some way to go yet.