Cécile Frot-Coutaz, James Farrell, Casey Bloys Keynote Series Mania


Serving customers, producing more sustainably and offering a mix of global-appeal and local shows were among the topics discussed during three keynotes at Series Mania on Thursday.

Sky Studios’ Cécile Frot-Coutaz, Amazon Studios’ James Farrell and HBO and HBO Max’s Casey Bloys each had a keynote session.

Offering shows and movies that satisfy existing subscribers and attract new ones was a goal common to all three executives.

As CEO Frot-Coutaz explained, Sky Studios is the original programming arm of the Sky platform, which has 23 million customers across six territories, the U.K. and Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and Italy. Sky Studios’ remit is to develop, commission, produce and fund scripted programming for the entire Sky group.

Frot-Coutaz differentiated between big-budget shows that can attract an international viewership, such as the announced The Day of the Jackal and The Tattooist of Auschwitz, both running on Sky and Peacock, and shows made for a local audience, such as The Lovers, playwright David Ireland’s first TV series. It’s hard to develop shows for the world, explained Frot-Coutaz. What everyone tries to do is develop for an audience—have a viewer in mind. If the show is well executed, with a unique voice and universal themes, it can travel. But you can’t reverse-engineer the process.

Examples of shows made for one market but traveled beyond it are Das Boot, for Sky Deutschland, which found a loyal audience in the U.K., and ZeroZeroZero, from Sky Italia, which has gained fans outside Italy.

Known for innovation, Sky has been at the forefront of sustainability. It has been a carbon-neutral company since 2006 and has committed to being carbon-zero by 2030. To that end, the new studios in Elstree London have 13 soundstages that are the most sustainable that exist, as Frot-Coutaz explained. Their solar panels provide 40 percent of the needed energy.

As for the biggest challenges facing Sky, Frot-Coutaz mentioned partnering with the right creatives, executing shows correctly and simplifying the discovery of shows for customers—how to find shows, how to make them cut through and getting the right shows to the right people.

Reaching customers with shows they want to watch is also a priority for Farrell, Amazon Studios’ head of international originals. He explained that the teams in the U.S. strive to produce 50 to 70 films and TV series that have global appeal. Key territories, like France and Spain, aim to produce 10 to 12 additional titles for their audiences.

Citadel, an action spy thriller, is an example of one model to encourage production of local shows connected to a made-in-the-U.S. high-end budget show. The U.S. show will launch in April, and Italian and Indian shows are already produced. As Farrell explained, the idea is to create tent poles that provide a universe that local territories can use as inspiration to create their own shows.

Farrell outlined three elements to define a successful series: how many people watched it, how many people signed up for it and how many people finished watching it. Rather than have the international territories produce in high volume, Farrell prefers one new title per month, whether it’s a series, a movie or an unscripted show. This way, the title won’t get lost among many offerings, which is also good for creatives.

The relationship with creatives is critical to Bloys, the chairman and CEO of HBO and HBO Max Content. He cited creators and showrunners Mike White and Craig Mazin. White had created the series Enlightened. During the pandemic, HBO programming execs were looking for shows that could be shot in one location. White had the idea for The White Lotus, the first season of which was shot in a resort in Hawaii that also housed the cast. The show continued with a second season shot in Sicily, and a third one is in the works.

Bloys met Mazin through the series Chernobyl and later asked him what he would like to do, which resulted in The Last of Us.

Bloys also stressed the importance of offering a mix of shows, not only tent poles but experimental shows like I May Destroy You from Michaela Coel.

When asked what makes an HBO show, Bloys said there is no one answer. HBO shows are unique, boundary-pushing and even weird. As programmers, he said, his teams always have to ask if people will pay $15 a month to watch and continue watching.

As announced, Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent company of HBO and HBO Max, will be launching a new streaming service this year that combines HBO Max and discovery+ content. Bloys said the goal is to build a product that has as much appeal as possible, not just HBO shows and not just reality programming.

Bloys mentioned upcoming shows: new seasons of House of the Dragon and The Last of Us are in the works. Kate Winslet, who starred in Mare of Easttown, will be in the upcoming limited series The Palace. There will be season four of True Detective, starring Jodie Foster, and Colin Farrell will reprise The Penguin in the eponymous spin-off of The Batman.