TBI Weekly: Why AI, copros & soft money can deliver a better 2024

NEM Zagreb 2023

As NEM Zagreb wraps up the industry calendar for 2023, TBI’s Richard Middleton explores the event’s key trends and how they reflect broader issues facing the global industry.

It was a suitably festive Zagreb that executives landed into this week, but the fog that enveloped the city was reminiscent of the feelings around the TV industry at present.

With commissioning budgets tightening and producers likely to face another precarious year in 2024, the focus inevitably fell on financing models and ways to produce for less. Fortunately, discussions at NEM Zagreb offered several solutions.

Re-assessing AI

Controversial as AI may be, there is little doubt that this rapidly evolving technology will transform the TV industry and its practices.

Sami Arpo (Source: NEM)

Myriad uses within production are already being implemented by some and there seems widespread acceptance that AI software applications will be able to speed up some of the more repetitive tasks involved in making TV, thus saving cash.

Its applications on creative, however, are less broadly accepted or welcomed.

There is undoubted fear that AI will start (if it is not already) influencing commissioning strategies, with software offering learnings that are designed to guide decision making for those spending on content. At a time of risk aversity, this trend will only increase.

How this affects producers remains to be seen, but as Largo.AI founder Sami Arpo pointed out during a panel at NEM, AI can also be used to their benefit.

Producers are already able to put AI software to work assessing their projects, with the results signposting its likely success for buyers. Again, in a world of risk aversity, this supplement to the more traditional practices can be a powerful tool in negotiations.

Co-productions calling

Cost-effective production could also provide opportunities in regions that are used to filming on lower budgets.

CEE immediately jumps out in this regard, with countries such as Hungary and well established in offering extensive service production facilities.

Krisztina Gallo, head of co-productions at Paprika Studios, which is in the process of being sold by owner Viaplay, described the current period as a “nice moment” for Western Europe to turn towards CEE.

But there is also money becoming available within the region.

Alex Traila, program manager at Council of Europe’s Eurimages, highlighted that his fund has around €3m to invest, with between €250,000 ($270,000) and €500,000 available per co-production.

And Nebojša Taraba, producer & partner at Croatia’s Drugi Plan, added that the balance of power has also been shifting over recent years as producers increasingly find themselves able to raise financing for projects.

“The situation has changed, the position of indies now is that we can bring a lot of money to the table. We have organisations like Eurimages, there are cash rebates and tax credits, so suddenly we’re not coming with empty pockets – we can bring more than €3m in many cases.”

No need for Netflix?

While a handful of CEE markets have enjoyed a commissioning spike over recent years from streamers – most notably Poland – many have seen little uplift from the streaming boom of recent years.

With HBO pulling its spend from the region last year and Viaplay hunkering down in the Nordics, the outlook of this changing in the near-term is perhaps not particularly bright but execs are clear that business can go on without them.

“Netflix is a direct competitor for us, because we have our own streamer so we compete with local series but also on acquiring content,” said Lenka Szántó, creative producer at CME’s Czech Republic broadcaster TV Nova, which operates streamer Voyo.

“It is complicated, we don’t sell anything to Netflix and we have different strategies. In our case, it’s about cooperation between countries, we don’t need Netflix.”

Branko Čakarmiš, strategic adviser to CME Adria, added that Voyo’s growth in his region had been due to its local programming content, arguing that selling content to Netflix “would be like shooting yourself in your knee.”

Instead, CEE companies need to “prove ourselves and be good partners for each other, to show there is trust and to succeed with sales,” Szántó said.

Čakarmiš added: “The big streamers have a different strategy [to CME], they are in their reuse, recycle, reuse phase,” which he said were “devil words for creative industry.”

Using Netflix to your own ends

Netflix is, however, proving useful for operators in aforementioned Poland and France.

Morad Koufane, deputy director of international series at France Télévisions, pointed to his broadcaster’s embrace of new windowing arrangements with streamers such as Netflix as one example of how the business has shifted.

France Télévisions and Prime Video were both behind local drama Dark Hearts, which had a window on the streamer before moving to the broadcaster, and Koufane said that the model worked for both parties.

Dark Hearts (Source: Newen)

“More and more [the streamers] are letting us be in charge of the editorial side of projects, because they might not be staffed enough, so they rely on us for artistic development.

“And we work with almost all of them. We do very few projects but the ones we do we try to do authentically with big budgets and so we find these partners can work together. We can go second or first, and it could be three months or six months, or even a year, later”

Marek Solon-Lipiński, director of international relations at Polish national broadcaster TVP, said its partnerships with Netflix – which has a hub in Warsaw – has created a virtuous circle.

“We’ve had periods of more and less cooperation – now there is more and of course it is controversial because selling your content to Netflix is potentially creating a problem for your own VOD platform.

“But it is also increasing your audience. Our shows [on Netflix] are still branded as TVP and we see viewers reacting to that,” he added, with audiences who may not watch TVP becoming more aware of its output through watching on the streamer.

And for producers looking torebound from the hot mess that 2023 has turned out to be, that can be no bad thing.

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