Top Buyers Talk Wish Lists, Rights Negotiations

At MIPCOM’s Acquisition Superpanel: What Do Buyers Want? session moderated by World Screen’s Anna Carugati, leading programmers from ITV, SundanceTV, Globo and the new Australian SVOD service StreamCo offered up valuable insight into their content wish lists, windowing and more.

The panel featured the 2014 World Screen Content Trendsetter Award honorees, presented in association with Reed MIDEM: Sasha Breslau, the head of acquired series at ITV; Paulo Mendes, the director of acquisitions at TV Globo; Les Sampson, the head of acquisitions at StreamCo; and Christian Vesper, the senior VP of scripted programming and current at SundanceTV.

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Sampson is buying about 10,000 hours of content for StreamCo, a joint venture between Nine and Fairfax Media that will be launching soon. Vesper is largely acquiring and developing high-end drama for U.S. pay-TV channel SundanceTV, which rolls out about three original scripted productions a year and three or four original co-pros and the occasional acquisition. Mendes heads up acquisitions for Brazilian free-to-air giant Globo. Breslau’s remit covers the main ITV channel, as well as the digital services, which includes the recently launched ITVBe.

Carugati asked the panelists about if they had ever been surprised by the success of an acquisition. “It’s always a surprise when something succeeds, especially in a market as large as the U.S.,” said SundanceTV’s Vesper. “Our first big drama was Carlos, which did extremely well. All the way up to The Honourable Woman, which we just aired this summer. [The original production] Rectify has also been a real surprise.”

Also discussed was the issue of output deals. Globo’s Mendes says he has pacts with a number of studios for both finished product and formats. Breslau, meanwhile, said ITV has not entered into an output deal with the U.S. studios for years. “Now we cherry pick, which works quite well.”

All four panelists were then asked about their content needs. StreamCo’s Sampson said he and his team are close to finalizing the acquisition of 10,000 hours of content for the Australian VOD service. “The last few hundred hours will be quite niche content—teen content, tween content, young female content. We’ve got most of our movie deals in place. We’ve got all our kids’ content. Now it’s down to finding something which is marketable, has a point of difference. We are looking at first-run drama as well, both from Europe and America. Something that can be used as a marketing tool on a two-month basis.”

SundanceTV’s Vesper wants a new limited drama series for the spring, and another, preferably a co-pro, for the end of 2015. “Beyond, I’m looking for other co-production opportunities. We’ve been primarily English-language, but we are also involved in the second season of Les Revenants and had great success with the first season. We’re very keen to explore other territories outside Western Europe and the U.S.”

Sampson is also acquiring non-English-language titles for StreamCo. Breslau noted that ITV tried this a few years ago with the Danish series Those Who Kill. “It worked pretty reasonably, but as a strategy, our audience is best served by English-language content.”

Breslau recently acquired Scorpion for ITV2 and says she’s very open to comedy and further drama for the channel. “They need to be big, broad, mainstream stuff. For ITVBe, although we are quite well stocked at the moment, I will absolutely be looking for more female-skewed glossy reality series—things that will sit well beside TOWIE, which we moved from ITV2 to ITVBe. For ITV4, I’m looking for male-skewing factual entertainment.”

Carugati asked the panelists about their negotiations with content owners for nonlinear rights.

“We are looking for both exclusive first-run content and also the non-exclusive library content,” said StreamCo’s Sampson. “There are holdbacks in the market linked to output deals, there are also holdbacks linked to some of the cable deals. If we are very passionate about a title, we can buy all rights—free to air and DTT and AVOD and SVOD. But we won’t be buying a lot of those. Like a traditional SVOD model in other parts of the world, a lot of [the acquired rights are] non-exclusive.”

SundanceTV’s Vesper says that across the board at AMC Networks, content ownership is a priority, “so on the in-house productions we pay for and own, [we] determine how they’re rolled out.” Co-pro deals are different. On The Honourable Woman, for example, rights owner BBC Worldwide concluded a separate deal with Netflix for the streaming rights to the show, three months after it ends its SundanceTV run. “Then we will try and capitalize on the product being in the market for a longer time in terms of our re-airings of the show and awards.”

“We understand that we can maximize the exploitation and give value to the content by using the platform we have,” Globo’s Mendes said.

“Catch-up is fundamental to all the deals we do,” ITV’s Breslau said. “As a viewer myself I expect to be able to see something online if I miss an episode. Operating purely in the linear space just doesn’t work for the way TV is consumed these days. For us, it’s really important that we get catch-up [rights]. Catch-up is really essential.”

The number of episodes available to view at any given time also differs from show to show, Breslau stated. “We don’t always get the ability to stack the entire season, but at any one time on average you can expect to see a handful—four to five episodes—post linear transmission."

The panelists were then asked about their pre-buy and co-pro efforts. “We expect a lot for our contribution [to a show],” SundanceTV’s Vesper said. “Typically we get involved once there is a pilot and once the local broadcaster has come on as a majority financier. We try to affect casting and we do stay across all of the scripts. We’re very active in noting them. It’s a big market and we’re a small channel. Since we don’t have a million swings at bat, we have to make sure whatever we do reflects what we think our audience wants. With The Honourable Woman, for example, one of the key conditions was that the lead be an actress of some stature. The producers brought in Maggie Gyllenhaal. It did exactly what we expected it to do—it did an enormous amount of heavy lifting in terms of the marketing and promotion."

Sampson says that he will eventually become involved in co-pros for StreamCo: “We’ll be looking at opportunities to put money on the table.”

Next up on the panel agenda was piloting versus going straight to series. “We currently go straight to series—it doesn’t financially make sense for us to pilot,” Vesper said. “That money can be put into the series.”

Episode counts were also discussed, with the U.S. studios still making 22 episodes for network dramas and most European companies remaining in the 8- to 12-episode range. “For ITV, short-run limited series are better for us, given the commitments we have in terms of commissioned programming, news and entertainment,” Breslau said. “Committing 22 weeks to something is quite tough. It’s helpful to have those 10-  to 12-episode series on the main channel. It’s a different story on the digital channels.”

Sampson has room for both in StreamCo’s service. “We’re certainly looking for everything from 8 to 22 [episodes] and more,” he said.

ITV’s Breslau added that shorter-run acquired series are “more in line with how we commission. When you have the network model of 22 episodes and you have preemptions and breaks, our viewers are not really accustomed to weeks where there are repeats. So it can be quite difficult if you want to play quite close to the U.S. transmission.”

The session ended with Carugati asking about the programmers wish lists.

Breslau said, “We’d love another comedy for ITV2. On the drama side, the main channel is a tough nut to crack in terms of acquired content because our homegrown drama is so successful and gets such good audiences. We are looking for something that would work on the main channel next year. It needs to be quality, high-end drama that is rich and textured and will appeal to a mainstream audience.”

Sampson is eyeing first-run European and American drama “at a cost-effective price.”

SundanceTV’s Vesper added, “We’d love to find the next big drama from a Korean director or a Latin American director or writer that is character-driven and exciting and really starts pushing the boundaries of what American audiences have seen."