Ahead of Fremantle’s London TV Screenings event on Friday, COO & continental Europe CEO Andrea Scrosati tells Richard Middleton about local production, production prowess and positive signs from streamers.
With a revenue target of €3bn ($3.16bn) to hit by 2025, Fremantle has been gunning on all fronts over the past 18 months.
Its latest deal came in the form of a minority stake in US comic book publisher/producer Artists, Writers & Artisans (AWA), with projects including a thriller based on the Devil’s Highway IP in the works.
Such deals underline Fremantle’s growing range and follows a succession of high-profile stakes taken in prodcos around the world.
Early additions included the 2015 acquisition of My Brilliant Friend prodco Wildside, but it is over the past year or so that activity has really picked up.
Deals range from Normal People producer Element Pictures and Italian veteran Lux Vide (Devils, Leonardo), to Australia’s Eureka Productions (Parental Guidance, Finding Magic Mike) and UK unscripted firm 72 Films, among numerous others.
Yet the influx of so much production capability is coinciding with a period of cooling demand, at least from streamers, but Andrea Scrosati, COO & continental Europe CEO, Fremantle, tells TBI he continues to see opportunity against slower spending.
“There is a trend in this direction, but a lot of this is due to macro-economic headwinds such as inflation, recession, negative stock performances,” he says.
“When these change direction – and we are seeing some positive signs – then we will rapidly go back to a more bullish approach from global streamers in content spend,” he adds.
Moreover, Scrosati says that even in the current climate there remains a focus on “locally oriented productions in key growth markets”, and it is this area that the RTL Group-owned firm – with its 27-country footprint – is looking to tap. There is also the potential of increased work resulting from the looming US writers strike, providing further opportunity.
And streamer strategies that lean into cost-efficient production are also tending to lean away from global rights deals.
Scrosati says he is seeing “some flexibility on rights, especially for locally originated projects where there is need for gap funding”, with companies “willing to give up rights in some territories to allow for this to happen.”
There are also higher costs to deal with, particularly in scripted, and Fremantle is looking to invest across the production process to insulate itself in future. The COO points to Lux Vide’s experiences of bringing “the entire value chain in-house: from writing, to studios production, to post-production and delivery.”
But that won’t stop the M&A activity and Scrosati believes Fremantle’s independent set-up (putting aside parent company RTL’s networks) means his company is well placed. “The consolidation happening across the market actually provides us with an opportunity as an independent studio to reach out to new talent and secure new IP,” he says.
“Talent is looking for a partner who is focused on their creative vision and that is perhaps not vertically integrated with a distribution platform, because this will guarantee that each project goes to the right home.”
The result of this aggressive M&A strategy is a dizzying amount of scripted series, ranging from a pair of Bosch spin-offs in development for Amazon, which come from Fremantle-backed Fabel Entertainment, to This England producer Passenger and UK indie Dancing Ledge, which was behind The Responder for the BBC.
Yet formats remain a mainstay for the group and while new IP has emerged – such as Amor Con Fianza from Fremantle’s Spanish team – it is shows such as Got Talent that provide a reliable source of revenue when risk aversion from commissioners is high.
“Our Global CEO Jen Mullin always says, protecting and growing our entertainment IP is a fundamental part of our strategy and our creative leadership does that constantly investing in this sector, innovating our formats to be sure they are always updated to the society we live in, the culture, the technology, the opportunities,” Scrosati says.
He also says opportunities are emerging, such as the recent deal that saw Disney moving Italia’s Got Talent to Disney+. “It’s the first time in Europe that format will be available on a streaming platform and underlines the sophistication of audiences and the evolving way in which they want to view their favourite content,” he claims.
“It also shows how popular these formats still are, and how unscripted entertainment is becoming a key component of the streamers offer,” the exec adds, pointing to Netflix hit Too Hot To Handle – from UK labels Talkback and Thames.
He is also looking to tap into the increasingly deep pockets of documentary commissioners, an area that has blossomed over recent years as buyers see their flagship potential. Big deals have included the acquisition of Wildstar Films, Israel’s Silvio Productions and aforementioned 72 Films, the UK prodco behind Amazon Prime Video’s All Or Nothing: Arsenal and an upcoming James Bond-themed gameshow for Prime Video.
Former BBC Storyville chief Mandy Chang was hired in 2021 to oversee this factual expansion and Scrosati says docs are a key focus of its growth plan, with an expectation that the 52 original docs delivered in 2022 will be exceeded this year.
“This is also part of our portfolio strategy,” Scrosati adds, with the capability ensuring Fremantle can be “a 360° supplier of content across all genres” but also home for talent that wants to experiment across genres. “More and more you see talent moving from a drama project, to a movie, to a documentary and we want them to know that they can always do it with us.”
While production has boomed during the current M&A drive, Scrosati is quick to point to the expanding repertoire across digital platforms. Social integration has long been part of the play to build audiences around shows such as The X Factor, Idols and Got Talent but the company is also YouTube’s biggest supplier of “professional TV content”. It offers 1,500 channels, with 476m subscribers and 286bn lifetime views.
“We are always looking at where our audiences are and testing new ways of reaching them. For example with Euston Films’ recent drama Wreck, when it launched on BBC Three, we also launched a Fortnite integration where players could step into the world of the show.”
While these new avenues of exploration provide growth potential, Scrosati is realistic about the widely predicted consolidation that will affect the sector and potentially reduce routes to market.
“We will see more and more aggregation opportunities offered to costumers,” he says, “it is simply unsustainable to think that families will pay for so many subscriptions individually.”
For Fremantle, the hope is that its growing footprint will leave it nimble enough to capitalise on both local and global opportunities to reach that record revenue target.