With the opening gong of MipTV here in Cannes today, two announcements highlighted some of the key trends heading into the market. Warner Bros International Television Production unveiled two major offshore deals on its hit format Little Big Shots which is part of a what one executive calls “kiddification” in the unscripted space. At the same time, Studiocanal said it has invested in three European indies and while spreading its footprint, will continue to produce locally to grow international. To be strong in Europe, you have to be strong locally, executives mused. Those trends along with a desire for returning series are on the minds of TV industryites who have traveled to the Riviera this week.
A few years ago at sister market Mipcom, execs were all in a tizzy over Rising Star which was seen as the proverbial next big thing in entertainment formats. But the promise gave way to dismay when ABC’s version sputtered and ITV pre-emptively canceled its plans to stage the show. Since then, drama has sucked up a lot of air and created what one exec suggests is a bubble that may deflate in the coming cycles.
The proliferation of platforms means there is room for drama. But, says ITV Studios Global Entertainment EVP, Director of Acquisitions & Co-productions, Ruth Clarke, “Everyone is looking for the new entertainment show. Drama is really dominant, and because it has become so competitive and there is a constant refreshing of drama, it’s become a big talking point. But that’s perhaps because of the absence of a new entertainment show.”
Clarke’s colleague at ITV Studios UK, EVP Global Development & Formats Mike Beale, says, “If you look back over time, 18 years ago four (major) formats launched. Previous to that, we lived with Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy. Survivor, Popstars, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Big Brother all launched within 18 months and defined more than a decade. We are about due the big one. Somebody will find the defining thing.”
“Kiddification,” as some refer to series like Endemol Shine’s hit MasterChef Junior and Australian format Spelling Star, is gaining traction. It’s not brand new given the success of Mark Burnett’s Fox primetime format Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?, but the mouths of babes currently look to be a source of enjoyment for U.S. and international broadcasters while audiences seek a respite from the gruesome headlines faced in the real, real world.
WBITP surely looks bullish on Little Big Shots, having staked out one of the gigantic billboards that adorns the Palais (see above) this week. After only two episodes on NBC last month, it picked up a second season order and is the No. 1 new series of any kind (scripted or unscripted) among total viewers on any network during the 2015–16 TV season to date. It’s produced by Warner Horizon TV — part of the Warner Bros TV Group where exec producer Ellen DeGeneres is based. The likeable Steve Harvey also exec produces and hosts the show, which is in line with something international execs say is key: celebrity-fronted entertainment that puts viewers at ease. ITV today ordered it straight to series in the UK and Mediaset picked up the Spanish option.
Endemol Shine Creative Networks’ Managing Director Lisa Perrin told me before the market, “Not many dramas make it to the second season and there’s a lot being thrown at the wall. That bubble will burst and there will be a floor show that will travel and then unscripted will be the focus again.” Still, the drama juggernaut is not going to stop trucking, she says.
Many execs point to the BBC’s recent success with The Night Manager as something that really captured people’s imagination. It’s believed the John Le Carré adaptation is due for a second season, although the parties involved have not confirmed. In the spirit of the day, an exec tells me, “Continuing series, that’s the measure of success now.”
ITVSGE’s Clarke is at Mip to screen the first episode of its Victoria miniseries starring Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman which is designed to have a long life and has been picked up by several offshore outlets. Says Clarke, “We spend a lot of time focused on new shows, but we’re hugely proud to have Rectify coming back; Endeavour, Aquarius, Schitt’s Creek and Poldark. It’s important in the drama space to have those returnable successes, as well as the big new shows which we hope become them.”
But international broadcasters are increasingly divided in their tastes. Roundly execs say that the serialized efforts coming out of the U.S. are not as wholly embraced in offshore markets. Henrik Pabst, CEO of Red Arrow International, whose Bosch was just renewed by Amazon for a third season, says he sees viewing habits changing overseas. “So much in the U.S. is serialized and Scandinavia and Australia are shifting that way. The old school European markets like France and Germany are used to procedurals.” With all the event series floating around, returning series are “very important because you can grow the world. Nowadays if you don’t have returnables it’s even harder to build a brand and establish yourself. It’s of high importance to us that we get the next season and so on and so on.”
Jens Richter, CEO of FremantleMedia International, cautions, “There are a lot of (offshore) linear broadcasters where it becomes a challenge to get these serialized dramas. You see that the first season is very successful, but the second is hard to keep up because the storytelling is complicated. More seasons and more episodes need really dedicated viewers. Maybe it’s easier to binge or watch in a box set.” That makes some linear broadcasters in Europe “more open for shorter runs.” Richter notes that France 2 recently aired BAFTA nominated No Offence in a stunt programming block that helped push the series. Among Fremantle’s returnables is Wentworth which is going into its 4th season.
Richter says American drama doesn’t work so well on linear free-to-air nets in Europe anymore. “In Scandinavia, there are no more studio output deals in place. They buy American shows but for other platforms or specific slots. There are less slots for linear. Free-to-air is becoming more and more local.” That’s also driven by the proliferation of local producers. “There’s an opportunity for local production guys to come up with closed-ended entertainment or drama,” Richter says.
Studiocanal today revealed that it has invested in three European indie producers, Urban Myth Films (Atlantis) from the UK; Benedict Cumberbatch’s SunnyMarch and Spain’s prolific Bambu. The prinicipals made it clear that the focus is on local television that can be taken out overseas. COO Romain Bessi said, “Local content performs better in all European countries than American content. We’ll start with local series and grow internationally.”
While the UK producers involved in the deals will have English-language dramas which generally travel well, it was telling that Bambu said it would stick to Spanish-language. A previous English-language effort with BBC Worldwide, The Refugees, didn’t work out so well for Bambu in Spain because audiences didn’t buy that it was Spanish even though it was set there.
The new so-called “mega indies” are also focused on local productions. The likes of ESG, Fremantle, Red Arrow and others have stacked the deck with scale by buying up a host of production companies around the world. While there is cross-pollination and a spirit of collaboration, making shows for local consumption which can then be adapted is top of mind. Endemol Shine’s Perrin notes that it becomes increasingly clear that “a good idea can come from anywhere.”