Louise Pedersen, All3Media International’s CEO, talks to World Screen about working with producers in the early stages of development to help shape series that will appeal to international buyers and the increased demand for scripted.
Long gone are the days when distribution involved mainly selling finished programs. Today, executives like Louise Pedersen, All3Media International’s CEO, work with producers in the early stages of development to help shape series that will appeal to international buyers. As demand for scripted has increased, so has the company’s range of product. Beloved long-running detective series, pacey, twisty thrillers and shows examining social issues sit alongside a selection of entertainment and factual programs.
WS: How do you view the international scripted TV market?
PEDERSEN: We feel pretty positive about the market at the moment. Yes, there are shows that are getting commissioned by global SVODs or studio SVODs where we, as a distributor, don’t have rights, but that’s good business for our partner production companies. Outside of that, there are lots of potential SVOD homes for our shows on the co-production side, both with regional SVOD partners, such as Stan in Australia, whom we worked with on Eden, and global SVOD partners who are prepared to do deals in specific territories. Then there are also long-standing and valued commercial or public-service free-to-air broadcasters, who are very keen to get access to good content because the studio SVODs are hanging on to some of their library product. The AVOD and FAST channel market is a growth area, particularly for our longer-running, established scripted series.
With the studio SVODs, there has been a huge demand for library content. If you have a decent library of shows—and we just bought the [NENT Studios UK, formerly DRG] library, which is another 10,000 hours or so—there are opportunities for co-productions, presales or library deals. AVOD, in particular, has been an opportunity for us to exploit shows in a different rights window and for a longer period of time. It feels like there are lots and lots of opportunities, which is really positive.
As for the challenges, new entrants to the market, like the AVOD or FAST licensees, require a different set of rights. We have to make sure we are smart about the rights that we grant to maximize revenue for our content across as many windows as possible.
WS: There is such demand for scripted programming. I love detective and cop stories. Is that a genre that continues to be successful? Are there others?
PEDERSEN: We love a good detective show ourselves. We represent some very well-known detective brands from Inspector George Gently to Midsomer Murders. We launched Van der Valk last year and have a couple of others, such as Annika with Nicola Walker and Dalgliesh, based on the P.D. James series of books, from New Pictures, launching this autumn. Yes, the genre continues to do very well. If, on occasion, we think of them as a comfortable currency, then a show like Mare of Easttown comes along and reminds everyone that the genre can be fresh and challenging.
Interestingly, the global SVODs seem to have given comedy-drama a boost. That was a genre that was generally difficult for our terrestrial licensees. Now, particularly in terms of finding a co-production, it’s a genre that works quite well, certainly in the U.S. and with global SVODs. We brought in Amazon as co-pro partners for Fleabag a few years ago, and Back to Life from the same producers (Two Brothers Pictures) starring Daisy Haggard is a show we were delighted to place with Showtime in the U.S. I don’t think that buying into a U.K. comedy would have happened a few years ago. The platform that SVODs have given this genre has allowed audiences to find content that, perhaps in the past, buyers didn’t think they would like. That’s been very positive.
WS: Has the increased volume of scripted changed the way shows are developed or produced?
PEDERSEN: More and more development is being financed by distributors or financiers. Broadcasters are still funding a lot, of course, but there is development going on outside the broadcasters, particularly in the U.K. That’s been a change. That’s all about distributors and financiers coming in early to get shows they think will travel that they really like. It’s about securing your position early in the process.
In terms of production, there is still a very strong model in the U.K., the PSB model, where broadcasters come in with a significant percentage of financing, a distributor comes in and probably matches it, and you’ve got a tax credit as well. That’s a model we like, but, increasingly, we are financing shows by bringing in one or two co-commissioning partners. On Van der Valk, we had ARD, PBS Masterpiece, BritBox and All3Media International. Partners don’t pay the full freight commissioning fee but more of a co-production level fee. Another example is our new detective series Dalgliesh, financed by us, Acorn TV and Channel 5. In essence, there used to be one dominant model of financing for U.K. distributors, but we are now working with producers on more creative ways of getting shows into production.
WS: Is there enough talent to go around?
PEDERSEN: A lot of production companies are finding that they have to wait a long time for writers. It’s a very competitive situation to get really good talent across the board. We do have to mention Covid here. When it comes to crews, the Covid protocols, the fact that some productions are having to stop and start as somebody tests positive, has placed a lot of strain on line producers, production managers and producers. Production is a stressful job anyway, and it’s gotten probably ten times more stressful with Covid. There is a squeeze on availability as well. Lots of shows went back into production at about the same time, rather than being staggered. If you talked to production companies in our group, they would probably say getting crews is quite hard at the moment and being in production is more stressful.
WS: You have non-English-language shows that do very well. Are you seeing greater demand for them?
PEDERSEN: We apply the same criteria to foreign-language shows as we do to any English-language shows we invest in. They have to be really strong commercial ideas that are original and have a very clear idea of what they want to be. If we find a foreign-language show that we love, we’re going to back it. We want everything to hit the quality threshold. We’re seeing a lot more willingness and openness from our buyers, particularly in the U.S., to consider foreign-language content.
WS: When linear channels dominated the landscape, a scripted series could attract viewers and help brand a network—think of Mad Men on AMC. Are scripted series still important today?
PEDERSEN: Absolutely they are. Baptiste is still a show that I’m hearing people talk about a lot around its BBC transmission, so scripted shows can still bring people together to talk about next week’s episode. Scripted series do still provide a common experience. It’s not to say that sports, entertainment and factual can’t do the same job, but sitting down and watching the latest episode of a new drama and talking about it with your friends and family afterward is one of the things that hasn’t changed during Covid. We are all still doing that and enjoying it.
WS: Scripted series can also shed light on important issues, often better than documentaries can.
PEDERSEN: The Russell T Davies series It’s a Sin, about the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, launched on Channel 4 and HBO Max this year. It told the moving and shocking story of that pandemic in a way that was incredibly poignant, relatable and powerful. It was interesting watching younger people talk about their response to the show on Twitter: “Oh God, we can’t believe this affected our community like this.” It enabled them to relate to it in a way that perhaps they wouldn’t have done if they were watching a documentary about the subject.
WS: What upcoming shows do you have?
PEDERSEN: We just launched Annika; it’s a UKTV show starring Nicola Walker. We’ve got Dalgliesh, as I mentioned, starring Bertie Carvel. Other ones to watch out for are The Tourist, which is a big drama set in Australia. It’s a mystery thriller for BBC One, Stan and HBO Max, starring Jamie Dornan and written by Jack and Harry Williams. It has all the plot twists and turns you expect from Jack and Harry.
We are delighted to be launching three dramas from our [NENT Studios UK/DRG] acquisitions: Close to Me, with Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston; and Martin Clunes’s Manhunt, a true-crime drama.
From Australia, we have New Gold Mountain, which tells the story of the Australian gold rush, and the brilliant, award-winning political thriller Total Control.
Also of a political yet highly emotional nature is Jack Thorne’s look at care homes during Covid in Help.
We’ve got strong documentaries, too, with the ultimate story of the Premier League in Fever Pitch! The Rise of the Premier League. And The Wimbledon Kidnapping tells a stranger-than-fiction kidnapping case around the Murdoch empire, and we are thrilled to be representing Roast Beef’s documentary about the Ghislaine Maxwell court case.