Rome has been a hotbed of discussion for the international TV industry this week, as European and US execs jetted into the Italian city for the ever-growing MIA Market. Richard Middleton offers six key takeaways.
The only thing changing quicker than the international TV industry at the moment seems to be the economic strategy and personnel of the UK government.
Like the embattled UK prime minister Liz Truss, the international TV industry is also grappling with some serious economic turbulence, some perhaps of its own doing and some not.
Yet unlike the UK government, those frequenting MIA Market this week seem to have come up with some savvy solutions to keep the show on the road. Here are six key takeaways.
The standing of public broadcasters has come under serious scrutiny over recent years as the razzmatazz of the deep pocketed streamers grabbed all the attention. But as the aforementioned streamers find their all-conquering content plans snagged by economic realities, pubcasters are beginning to be seen by many as a safer bet and, more importantly, have developed their own strategies to fund programming.
One such scheme is The Alliance, whose members – France Televisions, Italian pubcaster Rai and Germany’s ZDF – this week picked up Bellingcat drama The Kollective from Amsterdam- and LA-based Submarine, as revealed by TBI. Written by Gomorrah scribes Leonardo Fasoli and Maddalena Ravioli, it has been inspired by Submarine’s hit documentary Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World and takes viewers around the world in a mysterious tale of political subterfuge.
It’s an ambitious, edgy and younger-skewing series, as Submarine’s MD Femke Wolting told TBI, and it also underlines pubcaster power if they work together. Manuel Alduy, head of cinema & international development at France Télévisions, explained to us that the show, which is being developed with a view to start production in 2023, will likely cost between €2m-3m per episode.
“Every primetime TV series that is above €1.5m per episode is normally too much for each of us, so we need the others in the Alliance – or another international scheme – to produce as well,” he said. “The Alliance is the first brick of the financing and then we will have international financing,” Alduy continued, meaning there is plenty of potential for wider distribution around the world.
Italian public broadcaster Rai took to the stage at MIA to confirm it was formally joining France Télévisions, ABC in Australia and numerous others in the Global Doc initiative, which was created designed to do what The Alliance had done for scripted.
Global Doc was launched by France Télévisions at Sunnyside of the Doc three years ago and uses funding from the UK’s Channel 4, ZDF in Germany, CBC in Canada, Austria’s ORF, SVT in Sweden and the ABC to pool resources and greenlight projects.
Rai’s first project as a partner explores how an Italian company is building a site in the south for France to explore nuclear technology, with Fabrizio Zappi, director of documentaries at the pubcaster, explaining that the show’s subject matter made it a “natural coproduction”.
Global Doc put out a call for projects at Sunnyside earlier this year, as first revealed by TBI, and Caroline Behar, head of international coproductions & acquisitions at France Televisions, urged international producers to send projects ahead of the deadline later this month to make the most of the international commissioning network.
One company looking to distance itself from shows that might aim to grab eyeballs around the world is the globally facing Netflix. A few days before unveiling its new ad-supported tier in a dozen countries, the streamer’s highly regarded Italian chief Tinny Andreatta was joined by EMEA topper Larry Tanz as they pressed home their desire for shows that focus on the demands of audiences in the commissioning country first and foremost.
Netflix used MIA to push its desire for unscripted shows, with Andreatta delighting in the creation of its first Italian original reality show, Summer Job, while Vatican Girl: The Disappearance Of Emanuela Orlandi – which is being produced by UK-based outfit Raw – was also highlighted.
But there was also a focus on scripted and Andreatta underlined that she wanted shows that would appeal primarily to local audiences and avoid stereotypes. “It is very important that our stories are made for Italian audiences – then they can be taken out across the rest of the world. But first, we have to be successful in Italy and connected to our local audience,” she said.
Andreatta, the former Rai exec who joined Netflix in 2020, pointed to mental health scripted series Everything Calls For Salvation – which launches day – as an example of what she wanted. “Programmes that are highly entertaining but also that break the rules and challenge people,” she said, with “anti-hero narratives” also required.
Danish screw tightens
It has been a truly dreadful nine months for Denmark’s TV industry, as the stand-off between streamers such as Netflix and TV2 Play and actor/writer union Create Denmark continues to halt production and development.
Lars Hermann, the former DR exec who now works for Blackwater producer Apple Tree Productions, did not mince his words at MIA, explaining that “greed” and an overestimation of the demand for Danish shows lay at the root cause of the problem.
The country’s production industry is “completely screwed”, he said, with his comments coming a day after almost 2,000 leading names in the Danish content business published a letter urging the situation to be resolved.
The industry is bracing itself for losses of up to €200m ($200m) this year if the stalemate continues, although TBI understands there is a small glimmer of hope with Viaplay set to extend its interim agreement for a further six months. Read more about it here.
But this is only one operator and Hermann was clear that compromise was needed to get the business back on track. Without it, industry members have warned that the stand-off will result in a “decimation” of the sector that will take years to recover from, with more than 50 shows stopped at either development or production stage currently.
Sky Studios ambition
Sky Studios underlined its international ambitions by making a big splash at MIA, where UK drama chief Meghan Lyvers was among three senior execs to talk up coproductions and the benefits of having a US-based partner onboard.
Former CBS exec Lyvers pointed to the “ambition” of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which is being adapted from the novel and has Peacock – the US streamer operated by Sky Studios owner NBCUniversal – onboard too.
Alongside Lyvers were Sonia Rovai, who leads scripted production at Sky Italia, and VP of the German operation, Tobias Rosen.
Rovai highlighted the importance of having a company with heft in the current market by pointing to a doubling of production for her division over three years, but there was little to be said about arguably the biggest challenge to Sky – the future of its HBO output deal.
Lyvers was effusive about HBO’s value as an “organic” coproduction partner, but there was no view on that gold plated output deal.
The pact, which delivers tentpole dramas such as House Of Dragon and Succession to the European operator, is due to end in 2025 but official word on what might happen after that remains unclear.
And then of course there were the late-night discussions about just what will happen next at Warner Bros. Discovery, which this week revealed a host of deep staff cuts on the US side of the TV operation.
On this side of the pond, much of the talk is focused on just how much – or how little – programming will be required in the years to come, once HBO Max and Discovery+ merge to become one.
That will determine how big the teams need to be and there seems little doubt that there will unfortunately be more pain for those working on the international side of the business as synergy saving predictions translate into cold, hard, unpleasant job cuts.
There are also questions being asked around WBD’s programming strategy, particularly for HBO Max, as shows disappear fro the service. Those conversations and more look likely to dominate the Croisette as the industry moves onto MIPCOM next week.