TBI Weekly: What BANFF & MIFA tell us about 2022 so far

Bela Bajaria

TBI has been on the road this week, taking in the mountainous surroundings of Annecy for MIFA and the Canadian Rockies for the Banff World Media Festival. Here are six takeaways from those events exploring how they reflect the key trends of 2022 to date.

Annecy in France and Banff in Canada are 4,885 miles apart, apparently, but the major trends playing out at MIFA and the Banff World Media Festival turned out to be much closer.

Both events have fallen during an incredibly busy period on the TV circuit but both managed to attract thousands of attendees, proof if it were needed that the much-discussed conversation around the future of face-to-face events probably has a conclusion.

Squid Game

Many other topics of discussion in the world of content do not have an answer yet, however, so here are six key takeaway trends from the past week’s events.

Netflix eases rate of spending

Bela Bajaria, head of global TV at Netflix, used her appearance at the Banff World Media Festival to unveil a new gameshow spun off from hit drama Squid Game.

That inevitably took most of the headlines, but Bajaria also provided a sprinkling of intel from the embattled streamer as it attempts to retain subscribers and compete in an overcrowded SVOD market.

First off, Bajaria admitted that the streamer was in a “noisy” period, but said there would not be any “radical shifts” to its business practices. She added that the company’s content spend – estimated at a round $17bn this year – would remain steady, despite the company’s share price falling 70% so far in 2022.

Orion Ross

But it’s clear that the streamer’s explosive rate of spending growth is levelling off.

There was a time when estimates around the amount forked out on content would inevitably jump by several billion dollars or more year-on-year, but that era has come to an end. “We’re not reducing [spending], but just slowing it because of how we’re looking at the next few years,” Bajaria said.

The tap isn’t being turned off, but the screw is being turned.

Co-pros & co-licensing

It’s been a recurring theme in recent months but co-productions are back, baby – if they ever even really went away. The difference, arguably, is that it’s not now just the under-financed broadcasters looking to tie up with colleagues around the world to build budgets, but streamers too.

Orion Ross, VP of original programming, animation, for Disney EMEA, spoke exclusively to TBI and, in a subsequent session, said he had “an important message for people to hear” that “co-productions are really important to us.” The hope is to dispel the belief that working with Disney always means handing over all the rights.

“That’s not the case,” Ross continued. “We have a long history of [co-productions] in Europe. Just because we’re moving more towards streaming as well as, or more than, channels, we still need both of them, and both business models. We don’t have to own everything.”

Canadian broadcasters also talked up the model in Banff, while Tara Woodbury and Danielle Woodrow talked up Netflix’s rights flexibility in Canada, offering corrections to “some of the misconceptions” about the global SVOD’s requirements when it came to finance models.

Dragon Striker

Perhaps most interesting for Canadian producers was the interest in co-license agreements, with Woodbury pointing to Fakes, an upcoming young adult drama from Vancouver-based Reality Distortion Field, as one example. CBC holds Canadian first window rights, with Netflix taking rest of world.

“We are really open to co-licences with any of the domestic broadcasters, it’s an exciting opportunity to collaborate. We are definitely open to that conversation. It is creative first, and if we are all aligned on that front, then we can look at what the rest of the deal might look like.”

Who’s onboard Warner Bros. Discovery?

Or perhaps, who’s not. Whether in France or Canada, or anywhere in-between probably, chat over cocktails and beers often returned to the swinging cuts at Warner Bros. Discovery, where CEO David Zaslav is looking to save $3bn.

Another crop of departing execs made the news today, but speaking to those on the ground in Annecy and Banff, it’s clear that there are many more cuts being made or in the works at lower levels at WBD’s divisions around the world.

On the programming front, meanwhile, WBD’s Sean Henry, VP of content strategy and acquisitions for kids in EMEA, said he wants to broaden the appeal and range of its kids & family offering.

Like many others, Henry was keen to talk up rights flexibility and, as above, co-productions – particularly for shows that appeal to “all kids aged 6+”.

A desire for shows that are “quite different to what we have done before” is also on Henry’s agenda, but he added that the company is also looking for shows “that might skew a little bit older, something that a tween audience can enjoy, maybe families as well. Gremlins: Secrets Of The Mogwai, which is coming next year, is a really good example of that.”

The Boys: Diabolical

Henry also said that this upcoming animated spin-off from the Gremlins feature films was the kind of co-viewing event experience that he believes can “help us broaden the appeal beyond the existing core.” It also leads nicely onto another recurring theme of the week…

Franchise forever

With The Boys empire already expanded, Amazon now seems keen on filling out its franchise quota with more animation content, according to Melissa Wolfe, head of animation and family programming at the company’s Prime Video service.

Aside from looking for “everything under the sun and moon”, Wolfe highlighted the success of existing animation on Prime Video – pointing to The Boys animated anthology spin-off The Boys Presents: Diabolical – and explained how Amazon would seek to make the most of its IP.

“The goal for our studio is not to just to make one-off series, put them up and have them kind of hang out on our service, it’s really to create franchises, to create bigger worlds.”

As Disney has proven so ably with Marvel, franchises can become the cash cows that every streamer wants. Wolfe said that a property can “branch out” from a series into other areas, via the entertainment and retail giant’s other services, such as Amazon Games, Twitch, Audible and comics app Comixology.

Jamie Schouela

“If you have a property or an idea that’s a graphic novel right now, that’s something that’s incredibly exciting to us, because you have a visual story that you’ve already put together. Maybe Comixology would be excited about that in one way and we could then work with you to develop the story idea for a series.”

FASTer and faster

FAST is hot, that much is clear. TBI moderated a session on the subject at Banff, where interest in the subject was perhaps best evidenced by the hundreds of people that filled the room (despite the session occurring at the same time as a Disney panel).

That was no doubt kudos to the pull of the panellists, who pulled the curtain back on the FAST revolution and revealed how producers big and small might work with the medium.

Jamie Schouela, president of global channels & media at Blue Ant Media spoke of how his existing channel execs have been able to use their expertise in the new universe with impressive success, while Beth Anderson, GM of fast channels at BBC Studios, underlined the linear medium’s pull for a lean back audience.

What’s also clear is that the world of FAST is developing, erm, fast and that there are numerous approaches to channel curation depending on your strategy, according to Tejas Shah, SVP of commercial strategies & analytics at FilmRise, with single IP and mixed programming both options.

The question over which route to take ultimately tends to come down to genre, although as Jennifer Vaux, senior director of content acquisition at The Roku Channel attested, “so long as you have a value proposition in the title of your channel, users know what they’re going to watch.”

And, as Schouela added, the FAST world is only expanding from the rapid growth in the US: “Canada’s less cluttered, the UK is less cluttered – this will only continue to grow worldwide.”


Bluey love

And finally, underlining his credentials as one of the good guys, Disney EMEA’s VP of originals for animation, Orion Ross, pointed to one of his current heroes of the animated world, Bluey, in an exclusive chat with TBI.

Ross said that the Australian animation, from Ludo Studio, was “a really good benchmark” for the kind of project he wants, adding: “We had nothing to do with Bluey, but someone was smart enough to buy it for our channel, which is awesome, because it’s great. I’m a big fan of that show.” Aren’t we all.

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