TBI Weekly: Five key takeaways from Series Mania Forum 2024

Series Mania Forum 2024 (Source: Series Mania)

Series Mania Forum was abuzz this week as execs came together to compare notes on the rather troubled state of the industry and work out how they might survive the current squeeze.

The annual get-together in Lille never fails to create headlines and there was little chance of lulls in conversation between delegates who were almost all agreed upon a single notion that business is seriously tough.

Yet in this game – and especially when it comes to the international industry – the real story is always far more nuanced. For those working predominantly in the US and the UK, opportunities are scarce and some prodcos are no longer hanging on for dear life, they are going under.

In countries such as France and Spain, business isn’t so bad, while for those in Germany, all eyes remain firmly focused on finding a way out of the ongoing challenges that have presented themselves over the past couple of years.

It perhaps partly explains why ‘survive to 2025’ is now so regularly touted as a strategy thesis, yet the takeaways from this year’s event underline a myriad of different approaches to achieve that goal.

Disney+ goes mainstream again

For anyone seeking examples of US-based streamers shifting their international priorities, look no further than Disney+ in Spain.

Disney+ execs (Source: Series Mania)

The Mouse House confirmed it is moving into soap operas with 70-episode scripted series Return To Las Sabinas, which is being produced by Banijay’s Diagonal TV – a sign of the times as streamers look to all types of content to pull in and retain subscribers.

Sofia Fabregas, VP of originals for Spain, sought to position the commission as an “innovative” move and in some ways, it is.

This most traditional and cost-effective band of scripted product has rarely been embraced by streamers previously, yet what it really underlines is Disney+’s move to traditional TV fare and an increasing concentration on content that can attract a mainstream audience.

Kevin Deysson, director of originals for Disney+ in France, added that he is looking for “commercial chic” shows, highlighting its 13-strong slate of shows to date and a need for “easily pitch-able concepts.”

Other shows unveiled included true crime series Lucrecia: A Murder In Madrid, which will explore the racist murder of Lucrecia Pérezs in 1992, and French originals Lost Station Girls, which is being produced by Oussekine firm Itinéraire Productions, and comedy Vienna Game, which is from Satel Film.

Max sets French projects & launch date

A year after Casey Bloys graced Series Mania Forum, Warner Bros. Discovery’s top brass were again back in Lille, this time to talk up the roll-out of Max across Europe.

JB Perrette (Source: Series Mania)

JB Perrette, WBD’s CEO & president of global streaming & games, used his keynote to reveal the European launch date – 21 May – along with some exclusive clips of upcoming shows including The Penguin, accompanied with some deafening soundtracks.

Perhaps as of much interest to producers seeking a greenlight was news the previous day that Max is back in the commissioning game in France, even if the date of the streamer’s roll-out there has still not been formally revealed.

In a not-dissimilar strategy to its US-based counterpart Disney+, WBD’s president for Western Europe & Africa Clément Schwebig said the streamer would offer “a diversified range” of programming targeting all demos.

Vera Peltekian, VP of originals at Max in France, doubled down on that by adding that the aim is to create a slate that is “universal, unique and timeless”, with scripted trio Black Lies, Malditos (working title) and an 8 x 30-minute as-yet untitled adaptation of Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur’s Living With Our Dead in the works.

Netflix draws the crowds

As in previous years, the biggest queue at Series Mania Forum 2024 was to attend the Netflix session, where EMEA content chief Larry Tanz offered his take on the current industry turmoil.

Netflix’s Larry Tanz (Source: Series Mania)

Unsurprisingly, Tanz and Netflix remain “all in” on streaming – which is just as well, because unlike most of its rivals streaming provides almost all of its revenue – but there was also acknowledgment of its competitors finding the business “really hard and expensive”.

Two new European dramas were unveiled and the streamer took the opportunity to differentiate itself from rivals, pointing to a slate of 40 shows in production this month alone across Europe.

“We are continuing to invest and to grow our investments, I’m proud that we have done what we have said we would do in terms of plans and we will continue to do that,” he said.

Tanz said that Netflix is working with more than 400 producers across EMEA and attempted to dispel some “myths” around rights flexibility.

The Amsterdam-based exec also said acquisitions remained a key focus, allowing the streamer to broaden out its offering, but he also talked up its efforts across the genre spectrum.

Unscripted output was particularly highlighted, with Swedish and Arabic format remakes of Love Is Blind name checked from this more cost-effective area of the business.

Dialling into the diaspora

While US streamers might have taken much of the international limelight, there was plenty going on in Lille from a French perspective too.

France’s TF1 Group said that it would be launching its streamer TF1+ into international markets, following the service’s January launch in France.

Rudolph Belmer (Source: Series Mania)

TF1+ was billed as France’s first-ever free streaming platform on its domestic roll-out earlier this year, with the service carrying more than 200 box sets of shows such as Plus Belle La Vie and HPI, as well as 400 films.

Rudolph Belmer, TF1 Group CEO, said TF1+ would be launched in Belgium and Luxembourg in June, followed by Switzerland, with an ongoing expansion into other French-speaking markets across the rest of this year and 2025.

It is not immediately clear which shows will be available outside of France, where the service offers series including Sam, Plus Belle La Vie, The Voice, Koh Lanta and acquired shows such as Vampire Diaries.

Kids and young adult shows are also available, with around 50 series, including Pat Patrouille, Miraculous and Naruto. Around 50 FAST special-interest channels are also offered.

“The internet doesn’t have borders and it has let international players such as Netflix and YouTube develop. There is no reason for us not to do the same,” Belmer said.

France Télévisions CEO on Salto strategy

For France Télévisions CEO Delphine Ernotte-Cunci, it was a case of what might have been.

The exec used her keynote session to bemoan the decision to close Salto, which the national broadcaster had backed alongside TF1 and M6.

Delphine Ernotte-Cunci (Source: Series Mania)

It was shuttered last year with execs blaming “complex and constraining governance” for its demise but Ernotte-Cunci said that the broadcasters had “missed an opportunity” to address the fast-changing shifts to streaming.

“We killed Salto but for me, it was a strategic mistake. I hope we can overcome that mistake and reconsider it – a common platform is the right thing to do,” she said.

The France TV boss also talked up Freely, the free TV service unveiled last year that is jointly owned by UK broadcasters the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

M6’s chairman, Nicolas de Tavernost, also used his keynote at Series Mania to talk up the launch of Freely, with his comments coming a week since M6 revealed more details around its soon-to-be relaunched streamer M6+.

That service will carry Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, an original MMA contest format and an additional version of The Traitors, neatly underlining trends such as the increased flexibility of streamers, cost-efficient programming and reliance on IP that have dominated discussions over recent months.

But Tavernost also told Series Mania crowds that French broadcasters had “missed a step” by not pulling together on Salto.

And as the industry continues to stagger its way through 2024 with one eye firmly fixed on next year, there was a feeling across Series Mania that pulling together might just be the main priority as they look to survive until 2025.

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