Buyer’s Profile: Kai Finke, SkyShowtime, chief content officer

Kai Finke (Source: SkyShowtime)

In this ongoing series, TBI speaks to key buyers about the shows they want and the models being used to pay for them.

Here, Kai Finke, chief content officer at pan-European streaming service SkyShowtime, discusses returnable titles, high impact acquisitions, the “beauty” of co-productions and becoming the “home” of Star Trek.

Halo (Source: SkyShowtime)

What kind of shows are you currently looking to commission?

We continue to look for shows that can differentially grow our business and entertain our many members across our European footprint. We launched 10 originals in 2023 in our first year of operation – I think that’s a really solid number – so investing in local and original programming and exclusive content remains a big focus of what we are doing this year.

We also benefit from the pipeline of iconic brands such as Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks Animation, Paramount+, Showtime, Sky Studios, and Peacock. This pipeline of content provides us with an incredible diversity of high-profile commercial content with big production values and fantastic on and off-screen talent attached – probably more than any other streamer at this point.

What we’re seeing with titles like Halo season two, Mayor Of Kingstown and Yellowstone, or with the recent success of our Spanish SkyShowtime Original Series Los Enviados, is the power, appeal and importance of returning shows. Therefore, we are interested in projects that that could potentially run for multiple seasons and build an audience over time.

Examples of returning shows in 2024 include The Family Stallone, Frasier, Mayor Of Kingstown, Tulsa King, Yellowstone and there is more on offer for Star Trek fans with the launch of Star Trek: Discovery. As a relatively young streaming service that continues to grow its market share and its audience, it’s really important to bring back some of the brands that have really defined us in our first year of operation.

Are you open to pitches & at what stage would you want to join a project?

We’re absolutely open to pitches all year round, and there is not a one size fits all answer to this. We will be evaluating projects that come fully packaged or partially financed as well as evaluating pitches that are relatively new. Sometimes in a conversation at conferences or industry events, ideas are shared with us that catch fire and lead onto something bigger. We continue to evaluate projects through our regional content directors, but also through colleagues focused more on English language content and of course through myself.

Some of our recent releases from Sky and Peacock have been super compelling and I think much has been said about the Taylor Sheridan universe and how much that can drive viewing and growth for a subscription service

It’s important for us that projects we are taking into consideration really feel complementary to the pipeline of entertainment from our shareholders. I can’t give enough credit to our shareholders for the quality of the programming they deliver. In particular, some of our recent releases from Sky and Peacock have been super compelling and I think much has been said about the Taylor Sheridan universe and how much that can drive viewing and growth for a subscription service. In short, there’s a lot we are really grateful for and content that we are taking into consideration needs to feel complementary to that.

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz (Source: SkyShowtime)

What financing models can you offer & how much can you contribute towards productions?

There are multiple paths to working with SkyShowtime at this point. We have been acquiring shows after completion and we will continue to do that. We are also looking into acquiring library and evergreen titles throughout our footprint that are complementary to the content we are making available from our shareholders.

Additionally – something that I was previously across for Netflix in Europe – is co-productions, so partnering with other broadcasters is something that we’re taking very much into consideration. The beauty of the co-production model is that you can split the bill, you can build an audience together, and you have the opportunity to make more sense of the economics in the current climate of increasing budgets.

But as we’re doing right now with forthcoming SkyShowtime Original Series Sleboda in Poland, SkyShowtime is also in a position to commission projects as a SkyShowtime Original Series, where we are either contributing either the majority of or all of the budget required to create a hit show.

What upcoming shows are you most looking forward to? What is it about those projects that makes them a good fit for your channel/platform?

It’s really difficult to point to a couple of titles if you’re excited about a slate like the one that we are looking at for 2024! We’re continuing to make incredible global entertainment available, including IP-based series such as Apples Never Fall, A Gentleman In Moscow and SkyShowtime Original Series The Tattooist Of Auschwitz.

At the same time, Yellowstone is returning for Season 5B and Tulsa King is coming back, which is a personal favourite of mine. Then there’s local programming where we’ve really only just scratched the surface over the last year as we make the move into original commissioning and original co-productions with partners throughout our footprint.

Veronika is a really good example of this – a SkyShowtime Original Series from Sweden that is launching on 22 March. It’s a crime thriller but it has a supernatural side which makes it really unique, and it is fronted by great local talent in Sweden’s Alexander Rapaport and Norway’s Tobias Santelmann.

With Sleboda, we are currently in pre-production for our first locally commissioned SkyShowtime Original Series produced and created for Polish audiences. Something that we’re very proud of at SkyShowtime are the Pay 1 feature films from our shareholders. The Academy Award-winning Oppenheimer is a great example of the level of blockbuster we have available on the service exclusively. For a young father like myself, it was impossible to catch this masterpiece in the theatres but I’m looking forward to spending 180 minutes with Christopher Nolan at home once the title is released on SkyShowtime.

For families we have Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie and Trolls Band Together available in the coming months. It’s challenging to just point to a single title if you’ve got best-selling book adaptations, big franchises returning, family favourites and you’ve got this privilege of making a push into local programming.

Yellowstone (Source: SkyShowtime)

What is on your acquisitions wishlist at the moment?

I think it’s important for us that the content that we are programming for our audiences appeals to a really wide audience. Therefore, we look for mainstream projects but with an edge – something relatable yet different that draws people in.

In terms of acquisitions, a great example is Kos, a high budget historical action-drama that will be our first SkyShowtime exclusive film available to stream in Poland. It was the most awarded title at the 2023 Polish Film Festival. This is a movie that did really well at festivals, but at the same time has had a successful theatrical release and we’re now programming it in a really early exclusive window.

If we can find local titles in early and exclusive windows across other territories we’re operating in, that’s something we want to take into consideration for sure. We’re looking at projects with really recognisable talent, high production values, first class execution – content that doesn’t compete with all the great global IP that we’re programming but that is complementing it.

How do you approach balancing acquisitions vs original commissions?

Again, there is no one size fits all approach to this. In terms of how we’re thinking about the flow and how we’re thinking about how we’re structuring our slate, I would much rather refer to high impact relevant titles as opposed to a certain amount of acquisitions versus a certain amount of original commissions.

We owe our members a high standard of programming and a continuous solid flow of new releases, which can include acquisitions and original commissions. It needs to be a good and steady state of flow offering new kinds of high impact content, both from global programming and local programming initiatives combined. Local programming doesn’t really have to travel – it’s important for us that it is locally authentic and resonating with audiences in its home market first and foremost.

Our aim is to super serve local audiences and local language content is not something that we’re commissioning for the sake of a global audience. We know that continuously adding relevant programming that feels mainstream, commercial and authentic will keep our members returning to SkyShowtime time and time again.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Source: SkyShowtime)

Which rights would you be looking to acquire? How flexible can you be?

The good news is that we can be really flexible, and one of the privileges of being a relatively young service is that we’re doing many things for the first time. Even though we’re working to a strategy, we can still work alongside the producers, distributors, or broadcasters that we’re teaming up with to find solutions for every single title on a project-by-project basis.

SkyShowtime does not intend to warehouse rights and would be perfectly fine with sharing the international distribution with its partners. For example, Mediawan recently picked up the distribution rights for SkyShowtime Original Series Codename: Annika, a Finnish-Swedish crime thriller that now has the opportunity to hopefully reach a global audience outside of SkyShowtime’s market footprint.

In terms of rights we’re hoping to acquire, it’s mostly ideally the first run rights across our footprint for projects that we are investing in. But depending on the right partnership we could consider second run windows or even library and catalogue windows. Overall, SkyShowtime is really flexible and we want to accommodate the needs of our partners from the local creative ecosystems and we welcome their flexibility by mirroring that.

Which shows are performing well for you currently?

I talked earlier about the beauty of returning shows, which we’ve recently seen with Los Enviados in Spain or more broadly across our footprint with Halo season two. These shows have done really well for SkyShowtime. In the movie space, unsurprisingly it is titles with great Hollywood cast attached and franchises like Despicable Me, Mission: Impossible and Top Gun that have been a great success for us.

Titles like Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem also stand out. We have an incredible pipeline of very recent and exclusive global blockbusters which is why we’re looking forward to launching titles like Oppenheimer and Trolls Band Together in the coming months. And obviously Yellowstone really has been a brand defining title for us, together with its spin off series 1883 and 1923. This universe has cultivated a great followership and franchise that we are excited about expanding later this year.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has performed very well for us also, cementing our position as the home of Star Trek throughout our footprint. It is an iconic brand that keeps growing its audience which is why we’ll be launching new seasons of Star Trek: Discovery this Spring. Tulsa King is another impactful title for us which returns for a second season later in the year, and Poker Face and The Curse are critically acclaimed fantastic series with A-list casts that have appealed greatly to our members too.

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