Streaming services have too much “power and influence” and their rapid content expansion could lead to “collapse,” Vikings creator Michael Hirst has cautioned, while Danna Stern, founder of Israeli Fauda prodco Yes Studios, has warned of the “turmoil” caused by recent widespread job cuts in the industry.
Hirst and Stern were speaking on a panel, ostensibly about scripted format distribution, at the 61st Monte-Carlo TV Festival this weekend, alongside Richard Fee, executive producer at UK prodco Quay Street Productions, which is currently working on Nolly for ITV and a local adaptation of Yes’ Significant Other.
Hirst, the English writer and producer behind Billy The Kid and The Tudors, who also serves as executive producer on Vikings: Valhalla, the Netflix sequel to his original History/Prime Video creation, noted “anxieties are running through the business now, especially since Netflix hit a wall,” and said that he is “wary of the fact that power and influence is being concentrated in these platforms. That’s not necessarily a guarantee of better product.”
He expanded: “In-fact there’s too much product now. This necessity to keep making product and pushing that as a business plan and always trying to get more subscribers, that’s a bad business plan and it’s likely to collapse at some point.”
In a wide-ranging discussion, Stern also shared her concerns at the huge number of executive job losses that have taken place in recent months, such as those following the closure of the Warner Bros. Discovery. merger in April, which continues to see senior execs departing.
“One of the things that is scary to me is the numerous changes we’re all going through in the past few months, the consolidation of the studios and the streamers. We’re losing a lot of executives in the process, the ones that are still employed are getting more and more scared, understandably because they’ve just seen a whole bunch of their colleagues let go.
“I literally congratulated someone at one of the newly merged entities just the other week just for still having a job. Staying put is the new up in our business. It takes a really long time to develop those relationships, to know what their tastes are, to know what the commissioners are looking for and how to speak to them, how to create that rapport and now that everything’s in turmoil, that’s really scary.”
Format pros and cons
On the subject of scripted formats, Fee highlighted the benefits, noting: “It’s great to be able to go to broadcasters with something that is a proven concept, you can demonstrate how this is going to work, you can demonstrate that an audience has come to it. In such a competitive environment, that’s a good thing.”
He added that producers needed to look for the best ideas “wherever we can find them; whether that’s books or newspapers or podcasts or formats. If you’re ignoring formats, you’re ignoring something really huge.”
Stern, meanwhile, pointed to the strength of globally successful Israeli formats such as In Treatment and On The Spectrum and said that it’s a ”good time to be in the scripted format business” with more people looking at formats and known IP helping a project to stand out.
While acknowledging that adaptations of known IP is “good business practice” Hirst suggested that they represent risk adversity on the part of streamers “which is a very difficult place to be; so they like something that’s based on a book, because if it’s based on a book it’s not their fault if it fails.”
Hirst also said that those in “the business of remaking” should also be in “the business of reinventing” and pointed to Ten Percent, the UK version of French series Call My Agent as one remake that had failed to distinguish itself from the original.
The conversation also saw Stern reveal that “the best thing that ever happened” to Yes’ Israeli hit Fauda is that it wasn’t remade in the US.
“Fauda is a great show that should never be a format,” said Stern, before adding “almost never” and noting that the upcoming Indian adaptation was an exception due to the “inherent conflict” in the region and revealed that over the years she has heard “probably heard 50 or 60 awful ideas for Fauda in the US.”
“That show started out as a format in the US and the best thing that ever happened [for the creators of Fauda] is that deal didn’t happen, it fell through,” said Stern, explaining that the show went on to become the most globally successful Israeli show, which “gave all of us a career – or a second or third career in some places.”