Mipcom is officially underway today on a stormy Riviera with a jam-packed schedule of high-profile speakers, screenings and stars. While drama remains a prestige offering at the market here, shifts in the landscape of the international television business are an ongoing discussion for buyers and sellers as they ponder deals. A growing proliferation of distribution possibilities, viewers’ increasingly finicky consumption habits, and the mass consolidation of indie producers are on folks’ mind. The hunt for the next big non-scripted show, however, remains one of the most frustrating issues because it’s been such a tough nut to crack — and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier after some buyers had disappointing results with last year’s bright shiny hope, Rising Star.
Many things have changed since Mipcom 2013. A push towards consolidation as part of a massive scale play across the industry has paved the way for a new mega-indie now that 21st Century Fox and Apollo Global Management have forged a partnership to manage Endemol, Shine, and Core Media. (Fox’s James Murdoch will be on hand to deliver a keynote later today.) That follows such tie-ups as Liberty Global and Discovery’s £550M deal for All3Media and Warner Bros’ acquisition of Eyeworks’ interests in 15 territories. Meanwhile, Netflix, whose Ted Sarandos is addressing marketgoers on Tuesday, has increased its footprint with key launches in France, Germany and elsewhere. It is also ramping up local production with the likes of Marseille, a French political thriller, and just closed fresh licensing deals with CBS Studios International. Subscription rates to the service have been high in France for example, although with a free first month, it’s still a bit early to tell how the uptake will play out.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the elusiveness of a big primetime reality show to replace aging franchises. At last year’s Mipcom, the Riviera was breathless over Rising Star. That Keshet International format was ultimately sold in over 30 territories. Solid launches in Brazil and Portugal were followed by a lackluster season in the U.S. on ABC, which in turn was followed by the cancellation of a planned UK version, and a shortened run in Germany.
Despite that, KI CEO Alon Shtruzman tells me, “When you come with something so disruptive, it can take time to evolve. Make no mistake, we are very proud of Rising Star.” He agrees that everyone is still looking for proverbial the next big, but thinks the market needs to be “slightly more patient.” Another exec suggests that “powered-up” factual and social experiments are still the major trends, although they should not be expensive plays “like Utopia.” This person says it seems as though people aren’t taking much primetime non-scripted to this market. “It doesn’t feel like a lot of big shiny floor shows, even though people say that’s what they want. After Rising Star, people are quite burned,” the exec surmises. Shtruzman maintains the “perception about Rising Star is slightly problematic… It was a big challenge, but it was delivered in each country successfully. It will be perceived as a game changer… It’s a bit deceiving to look at it after one year.”
Regardless, buyers still look to KI as a key source of formats. It has a handful of new offerings this market that are stirring interest including Help! I Can’t Cook which recently debuted in Israel as the second highest-rated original reality launch ever and has already begun to sell. The social experiment wrapped inside a cooking show sees A-List celebrities locked into a remote “Culinary Academy for Beginners” for three weeks. There, they attempt to overcome their own personal cooking inhibitions. Producer Ran Tellem says one of the key elements of the show is that it’s “really funny… There’s something about seeing very talented pros who are in places they wouldn’t like to be seen doing something they don’t know how to do.”
Food is undeniably big in Europe right now, Shine‘s Masterchef continues to perform and has now sold in over 50 territories — it will have a special showcase here in Cannes this week. In the UK, the recent finale of Great British Bake-Off scored the 2nd biggest overnight rating of 2014 with 12.29M viewers – more than watched the World Cup finale. (A CBS version ran for one season in 2013.) It consistently played bigger in the overnights than dramas like Doctor Who and Downton Abbey this fall.
As with elsewhere, linear viewing is experiencing an upheaval abroad, especially in the UK. That’s a concern for execs who are attempting to keep up with the various ways in which consumers watch TV. Downton exec producer Gareth Neame recently told me people are “becoming more and more accustomed” to catching up on devices that aren’t tracked by ratings services. Before the trend picked up speed, “We all got rather addicted to the sort of crack of 12 million audiences and overnights of 10 million.”
Jakob Mejlhede, SVP of Acquisitions & Programming Scandinavia’s Modern Times Group and CCO of MTGx, adds “How to utilize and monetize across platforms is the most important thing for broadcasters” right now. Scandinavia mirrors the UK with reportage, Masterchef, and local documentaries working very well on linear terms. On the drama side, I’m told U.S. product is in a downward trend. Online consumption, “seems to be the consumer preference” there.
Other trends include a push towards combinations in the non-scripted spectrum says Shtruzman. “We see more and more mash-ups of existing formats. Comedy and reality, game shows and reality. Because of the clutter, you need to stand out, and creative companies and broadcasters are taking risks now.”
On the scripted side, KI has Dig, the Gideon Raff/Tim Kring drama that it is handling in a slice of territories not covered by NBC Universal. Other prestige scripted shows that will have premiere screenings in Cannes include Electric Entertainment’s TNT drama The Librarians; eOne’s The Book Of Negroes with Cuba Gooding Jr; All3Media’s The Missing with James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor and Tcheky Karyo; and Endemol’s Kingdom, starring Frank Grillo and Nick Jonas. David Duchovny is also expected in town to talk up Charles Manson event series Aquarius from ITV Studios Global Entertainment (which also has anticpated Dan and Eugene Levy comedy Schitt’s Creek). Still, the increase in high-profile drama, one executive says, has led to increased complaining about the diminishing pool of available showrunners everywhere. At the same time, the off-network tendency to shorter seasons is putting more pressure on broadcasters to look to the international model of 9-13 episode runs.
There’s also a rise in overseas co-productions with the recently announced collaboration of X-Filme, ARD, Sky Germany and Beta Film for Babylon Berlin. That police drama will have Run Lola Run and Cloud Atlas director Tom Tykwer as showrunner. The local-language series is produced by Stefan Arndt. Sky Italia and Beta are working together on 1992, a sort of follow-up to Gommorrah, and The Returned‘s Haut et Court is gearing up jewelry heist series The Last Panthers and developing eco-thriller Rubber Ducks. Tandem is selling both. Other new drama propositions to keep an eye on include Grantchester, Shine’s period detective series about a crime-solving vicar which debuted to strong reviews in Britain this month. Gaumont TV France is selling Spy City, a 10-part English-language period espionage tale set in early 1960s Berlin written and created by William Boyd.
Alongside Help! I Can’t Cook, non-scripted fare that’s tipped to do well includes Shine’s The Undriveables and social experiment The Island Of Lost Blokes which has been commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK. Red Arrow’s Escape Your Life which TNT recently acquired and which Germany’s ProSieben is remaking is also a hot one on the international radar, as is Fremantle’s fitness competition Master Athletes.