TBI Weekly: It’s been a bright London TV Screenings… but are storm clouds on the horizon?

Samber (Source: Federation Studios)

London TV Screenings is drawing to a close today after a week of deals, dialogue, drinks and drizzle. As execs from across the world check out of the UK capital, TBI hears from key figures on the trends, changes and challenges for the rest of 2024.

What a difference a year can make. The last London TV Screenings saw the industry getting to grips with the fact that the streaming wars were, effectively, over.

We’ve since had 12 months of content cuts, staff lay-offs and the end of the growth-at-any-cost mindset, with the return of hallowed third-party sales from those that seemed to have given them up for the D2C dream.

This all amounts to another year of fluctuation with fresh challenges to face and opportunities to be seized.

So around this week’s event, TBI has been talking to those holding the IP to find out what the future holds, including insight into how they are navigating buyer’s rising risk adversity, why they are getting involved in productions as soon as possible and if the days of global deals are well and truly over.

Tim Gerhartz

Intensifying risk aversion

The biggest difference in the discussions that most distributors are having with buyers now compared to just 12 months ago is that the broadcasters and platforms are more than ever looking for big, broad brands that will cut through and capture the greatest number of eyeballs – across streaming, linear or wherever else they might want to show it.

If buyers seemed risk averse before, this is not a situation that seems likely to change any time soon.

“Buyers are not asking for streamer-friendly formats anymore, but big brands that work across all platforms and means of exploitation,” Tim Gerhartz, MD of Red Arrow Studios International (RASI), tells TBI.

Tim Mutimer, CEO of Cineflix Rights, has also seen buyers increasingly looking for “sure-fire hits that can cut through in a landscape of fragmented audiences.”

Prentiss Fraser, president of TV distribution at Fifth Season tells a similar story, experiencing an “increased focus from buyers on known IP and titles that have previously aired, so come with existing brand awareness built in.”

For those distributors with shows holding mass appeal and a proven reputation on their slate, demand is high, and even more recent titles that have been able to generate some buzz are rising up buyer wishlists.

Monica Levy, co-head of distribution at Federation Studios, tells TBI: “The market is getting traction again and, surprisingly enough, over the last two months we had three bidding wars on different programmes (including the amazing Samber), which shows that the buyers are active when the content is good and well-marketed.”

There’s never really such a thing as a guaranteed hit in TV, but it won’t hurt your chances of a deal if you have some rave reviews or a couple of tried-and-tested versions of your format already getting audiences to switch on.

Will Stapley

The early bird… gets the show off the ground

With fewer shows being commissioned, securing a pipeline is crucial and getting involved with projects at the earliest possible stage is becoming standard operating procedure for many distributors to ensure they can keep catalogues fresh and in demand.

Will Stapley, head of acquisitions at Abacus Media Rights, says that the company will board a show “even at the inception of an idea” before taking it out to the international market to secure co-production and financing opportunities.

“Essentially, we are helping shows that cannot secure a commission this year find the required funds to move into production,” said Stapley. “And we are gap financing high-end commissioned projects that need a hand getting across the budget finish line.”

Adam Barth, director of co-productions, acquisitions & development at Eccho Rights, agreed (one might even say that he ‘ecchoed’ the point), sharing that his firm is also boarding projects early in development as it aims to become “an indispensable partner for producers who need help to navigate the challenges of a modern finance plan.”

He adds: “Our partnership with Night Train Media also gives us the additional financial security we need to attract the best editorial and onscreen talent to our projects, all of which are vital in onboarding co-producing partners at an early stage.”

At Cineflix Rights, meanwhile, Mutimer said that the company takes “an active role in creating and financing series with independent producers rather than waiting for full commissions” to get projects off the ground, with Secret Nazi Expeditions from Go Button Media, one recent example.

Davey And Jonesie’s Locker

Local deals reign as global agreements dwindle

This changing approach to partnerships and content acquisition is, however, opening (or in some cases, re-opening) pathways to bringing shows to the screen, particularly with streamers that were until recently intransigent on the point of global rights.

“We are seeing more flexibility. Clients are open to exploring new rights models and windowing strategies as a path to partnering on originals and pre-sales,” says Gerbrig Blanksma, SVP of international sales & partnerships for Blue Ant Media.

“We are also seeing global streamers sharing territory rights. A great example is Davey And Jonesie’s Locker, where the series was co-financed with Hulu in the US and Amazon in Canada. Blue Ant co-financed the project and represents the series in the rest of the world.”

From conversations over the past week, “greater flexibility” has become almost a buzzword when discussing streamer’s content strategy with distributors. Barth at Eccho Rights goes so far as to suggest that “the days of global deals are behind us” and highlights that deals are becoming “much more local,” with streamers taking more secondary rights and open to “co-exclusivity with local broadcasters.”

Paul Heaney, CEO at BossaBova Media, puts it plainly: “Everyone wants their money to go further,” which means: “They won’t be buying global rights as much, preferring a local/regional approach.”

Poppy McAlister

International co-operation is key

With budgets and deficits getting bigger, a shrinking global ad spend and the markets for some genres contracting, there are plenty of challenges to be overcome, and the immediate answer seems to lie among greater collaboration and more co-productions, at least so far as these distributors are concerned.

“In times of lower advertising income the industry needs to find new and creative ways of financing productions. We need to see more cross-border collaborations and commissions in the format space particularly,” suggests RASI’s Gerhartz.

Poppy McAllister, head of content operations at TVF International, also highlights how her company is looking at greater “co-production potential” and the need to “create new partnerships across the industry.”

And it is becoming more crucial than ever, says Eccho Rights’ Barth, as broadcasters and producers are becoming more reliant on distributors to help bridge financial gaps. “That’s why we are so concerned with co-production, sharing the costs fairly and making sure everyone gets the best deal.”

Oliver Bachert, chief distribution officer at Beta Film, meanwhile, says that: “New collaborations are a great opportunity to maximize expertise, creativity, and economic efficiency. New alliances and international co-productions are crucial to overcome financing gaps.”

Click HERE, to catch up on all of TBI’s news and insight from London TV Screenings 2024.

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