SeriesMania in France wrapped yesterday following a three-day Forum that welcomed drama professionals from across Europe and beyond. TBI reflects on the event’s key takeaways and considers how the numbers stacked up as physical events begin to return.
In many ways, the TV industry has adapted incredibly well to the pandemic, with productions juggling protocols to continue shooting and workarounds being created to keep social distancing in play and series on track.
The events circuit has, however, found itself at the mercy of the rapidly changing restrictions designed to keep Covid at bay and there have been few options other than moving online.
That is now finally beginning to change and following almost 18 months of virtual, SeriesMania’s physical return to Lille – and actually seeing people in person – was widely welcomed.
It would be easy to fill this piece with the array of shows on offer in Lille and the myriad talking points emerging from execs, but it seems only fair to start with some numbers.
SeriesMania says it attracted more than 54,000 participants to the festival as a whole, while the Series Mania Forum – the professional strand – attracted a total of 2,100 participants.
On top of that there were 400 online registrations, with participants from 66 different countries taking part. For an international drama festival coming off the back of the past year or so, and dealing with travel regulations that change weekly, that’s some achievement.
One of the biggest headlines of the week on the operator side was made by WarnerMedia, which confirmed its HBO Max streamer would be launched in Spain and the Nordics this autumn.
A roll-out in the CEE and Portugal will come in 2022, with the news coming five weeks after the US studio giant – soon to get larger by merging with Discovery – admitted its planned European roll-out across Europe would likely be delayed.
WarnerMedia’s president of EMEA excl China, Priya Dogra, and HBO Max general manager, Christina Sulebakk, were also in town to discuss how the streamer would look, and while there was no mention of the company’s merger with Discovery, Sulebaak said the OTT service would offer a “much broader and more compelling offer” compared to its services currently in play in the region.
The streamer will be producing across scripted and docs, but also unscripted genres that have to date been little visited by HBO. These include reality and competition, with an expectation that producers in the region will be delivering around 12 unscripted shows a year by 2023.
Banijay’s bigger appetite
Not content with consuming Endemol Shine Group, Banijay’s CEO Marco Bassetti and chairman Stephane Courbit made a rare joint appearance to discuss how their production giant is travelling.
Bassetti said the company would “continue with consolidation” and add to its stable of prodcos, which was most recently expanded by the acquisition of DMLS TV, the French producer behind TF1 show Duos Mystères (Mystery Duets).
The company already has 120+ labels that stretch across 22 countries and Bassetti said the plan is to focus on its existing footprint for further additions.
With an array of US-based streamers in town, the duo also addressed the ongoing battle for rights and underlined the importance of retention to the company’s strategy.
“The IP must stay in the company where it was created, that is the key,” Courbit said, while Bassetti added that the company’s size was key in allowing it to fight back on rights demands. “You need leverage in front of commissioners in order to retain your IP. We want to stay in the European model, we don’t want to be a producer for hire because if we did that – a bit like with the US model – all this creativity across Europe will die.
“It’s not just about us, because we are big and we can defend ourselves – but for smaller producers, they cannot defend themselves.”
On the podium
While chatting face-to-face at the smattering of drinks events dotted through the week was certainly welcome, the atmosphere created by people watching premieres together was unmatched.
A huge array of series were on offer, with a multitude of prizes handed out too. The International Competition was won by Icelandic drama Blackport, created by Gísli Örn Gardarsson, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson and Nina Dögg Filippusdóttir. It’s set to air on Franco-German broadcaster Arte and tells the fascinating story of how moves to privatise rights to fishing grounds led to much deeper problems.
Elsewhere, the Best Actress prize went to Marie Reuther for Kamikaze, which will be available via HBO Max and looks suitably worthy of the HBO label, while Best Actor went to Itamar Rotschild, Orr Amrami and Shmuel Vilozni for Israel’s The Echo Of Your Voice.
Special mention to Russian period drama Red Rainbow too, which was voted winner of this year’s Best Project Award at the annual co-pro pitching competition. Alexander Rodnyansky of France’s AR Content/Non-Stop Production and writer Matt Jones picked up the €50,000 ($60,000) prize for the 8 x 50-minute project, which was one of 15 shows in competition.
Dressing up Disney+
The Mouse House followed its appearance at last week’s Edinburgh TV Festival by sending its EMEA president, Jan Koeppen, to Lille to unveil another new headline-grabbing drama.
Disney is already producing in nine countries across Europe, Koeppen said, and the latest scripted addition is Kaiser Karl, which will explore the life of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.
From French prodco Gaumont, it will explore the iconic designer’s life and work, as well as his rivalries from the start of his career in the 1970s. It joins fellow Disney EMEA drama Nautilus, which was revealed last week and is from UK prodcos Moonriver TV and Seven Stories.
Koeppen said the show reflected the types of drama Disney+ wanted to get involved with, adding that his company is now “far more focused and far more invested” in telling European stories. Disney is now expecting to produce 60 originals from the region by 2024, up from its previously announced 50, he said.
There were deals aplenty too, with streamer Starzplay partnering with French broadcaster TF1 on the commissioning front. The show, anthology series A French Case, is being produced by Cheyenne Federation and will focus on the tragic murder of four-year-old Grégory Villemin, who was abducted from his home in Lépanges-sur-Vologne in 1984.
Elsewhere, Berlin-based Flare Entertainment and French distributor Newen Connect unveiled a co-development and distribution pact for drama series Balaton Brigade, which is from Hungary’s Joyrider and director Ildikó Enyedi. The spy drama has Hungary’s RTL Klub already onboard and Flare will begin pitching the project to German broadcasters this autumn.
Keshet International also made a flurry of headlines in Lille, revealing that Australian public broadcaster SBS had become the first company to strike a pre-sale deal for Furia from Norway, while HBO Max in Latin America and Spanish streamer Filmin TV were among companies to have picked up Pørni. The Norwegian series received its French premier at Series Mania 2021 earlier this week and underlined the breadth of projects coming from the region.