Banijay, the European superindie that owns Keeping Up With The Kardashians producer Bunim/Murray, has found itself in the middle of its own dramatic reality series in recent months after emerging as one of the frontrunners to buy Big Brother and Black Mirror rival Endemol Shine.
Most companies would hide under the covers until a deal is either done or the gossip has subsided. However, Banijay, which has 61 production labels in 16 countries, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month and, as such, CEO Marco Bassetti is doing the rounds to blow out as many candles as possible.
“I can’t comment on something that there are so many speculations on,” the former Endemol Group President Bassetti inevitably told Deadline.
However, he does address the general need for scale in the international TV business and admits that it is looking at opportunities for consolidation. “We believe that we will be in the market for other [deals] and we will look at this. We believe that we are a company that we have a platform that can absorb another company of the middle size and we believe that we can create a lot of value,” he adds. “We believe that scale is getting more and more important today because you need more money to invest in new [shows]. You need to have very strong product to have more leverage in front of your clients. It is difficult for smaller companies. Also, the more you have scale, the more opportunity you have to attract talent. We want to have top talent.”
The rumors are not wildly unhelpful for the company; Banijay is smaller, and generally less well known, than the MasterChef and Peaky Blinders group, and until its merger with Zodiak Media, which owns companies behind Wallander, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Crystal Maze, closed in 2016, it was not considered in the same league as the likes of Endemol Shine, Fremantle and All3Media.
It is not the first time that Stéphane Courbit, founder and chairman of Banijay has tried to buy Endemol. Courbit tried to buy out the firm in 2006 when he was CEO of Endemol France, failed, left the following year before setting up Banijay in 2008. If successful, Courbit would be back in the headlines for the first time since 2015, when he was embroiled in the French Bettencourt scandal in 2015.
Many believe that for Banijay to succeed, it would have to rely on investment from French conglomerate Vivendi, which owns a 26.2% stake in the business alongside other interests such as Studiocanal, Canal+ and Universal Music, or work with a third party to raise the considerable finances.
All of this talk about tie-ups is not to suggest that Banijay isn’t strong in certain markets; it does particularly well across Scandinavia and its UK divisions are lauded for their entertainment output. Bassetti points to strength in France, where it produces long-running hits such as variety format Les Associés (The Legacy), and believes that its German unit, run by former Endemol Shine German boss Marcus Wolter and Indian joint venture with Deepak Dhar will start paying off soon.
Bunim/Murray, the company founded by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray and famous for MTV’s Real World alongside the Kardashians, is also going strong with E! Citizen Rose and Total Divas and Stephen David Entertainment, which makes high-end docs such as The Making of the Mob.
Banijay formats Temptation Island and Wife Swap are also both coming back in the U.S. USA Network is bringing back the island format, while CMT has ordered ten episodes of the British factual entertainment format.
Bassetti says that that the U.S. remains the most important market in the TV industry. “If you are strong and big in the U.S. you are strong and big in our industry. To be big there is something because every other region is looking at the U.S. and if we do well there, there’s an opportunity to be commissioned in Europe, Australia and India and everywhere else.”
Banijay is predominantly a non-scripted company; it co-finances and distributes a number of drama titles such as French period drama Versailles and Australian horror thriller Wolf Creek in addition to producing a raft of dramas in Scandinavia. It now wants to extend this to the U.S., where Yellow Bird, the company behind Stieg Larson’s Millenium trilogy is opening a drama unit under the leadership of Headhunters producer Marianne Gray.
“For a company like us, we need to be strong in drama and need to grow step by step,” says Bassetti, who says it will invest considerable amount in the genre. “We will invest money in this business but we don’t want to change our focus to become a scripted company, our main focus is on non-scripted.”
Its latest focus is on shows such as Live and The Duo, two entertainment formats produced out of Denmark. Live, from the creators of All Against 1 and Nordisk Film TV Denmark, is a live talent show that is searching for the next big live artist. Artists only have 30 seconds to take audiences by storm before running the risk of being swiped out by viewers using a mobile app.
Meanwhile, The Duo is a new type of audition show to discover a vocal partnership. In each episode, singers can’t see who they’ve been chosen to sing with, a curtain divides them, but if they match well, they are revealed to each other and move on to the next round. The show is produced by Mastiff Denmark.
The Duo has been heavily financed by Banijay. Head of Content Lucas Green, who joined the company from Fremantle at the start of 2018, said that it’s part of a strategy to put more central money into development. “We have a lot of faith in The Duo, it has a lot of the great beats of an entertainment show but it also has a unique mechanic that allows us to put emotion at the heart of the stories. We’ve seen a lot of talent shows that have promised to find the next big star but very few have delivered, but the success of shows like All Together, shows that singing and performance shows don’t just have to be about finding a star, they can be about game or telling stories or bringing people together. We’ve taken the idea from one our smaller markets and decided to back it and put money into it, deficit finance our own pilot to make sure that it had international scalability so if it were to launch, it would launch big.”
Banijay is also at the forefront of bringing back classic formats. As well as the aforementioned Temptation Island and Wife, it has recently run through The Crystal Maze in the UK with Channel 4 and is heading out to become Shipwrecked once again with youth-skewing sibling E4. Last year, the company also bought Castaway Productions to secure Survivor.
Bassetti says that Survivor was the only hit format that wasn’t owned by a big media group and he felt that it still had potential to open in new markets, come back in others and be spun-off into a range of other series.
Next up, Banijay will be looking whether it can survive Mipcom and potentially the race to buy Endemol Shine.