In the middle of last year, Ampere Analysis revealed that by its estimations, Netflix had become the largest single commissioner of new scripted projects in Europe, well ahead of the region’s leading pubcasters ZDF, BBC, France Télévisions and ARD. “As a marker of the wider changes in the entertainment industry, the ascent of Netflix to become the largest single commissioner of new European scripted content is pivotal,” said Guy Bisson, executive director of Ampere Analysis, at the time. “To date, Europe’s major public-service broadcasters have driven the European content creation industry and local drama production. However, the ever-increasing importance of international markets to Netflix’s growth, its wide investment in locally relevant drama across the region and the shift to pan-regional or global content as the basis for value means that today, global streamers like Netflix drive even local markets. With the newer studio direct streaming platforms already beginning to emulate Netflix’s strategy of commissioning new scripted content outside the U.S., there could not be a better time to be a European content creator.”
Indeed, Disney+, HBO Max, Paramount+ and other platforms upping their international ambitions have injected a new round of cash into the global scripted business. Meanwhile, strong regional players are being equally aggressive, from Viaplay in Europe to Viu in Asia and Shahid in the Middle East. Per Ampere, commissions by the leading free-to-air groups in Western Europe’s largest TV markets were also up last year, with the number of new scripted project commissions nearly doubling from Q2 2020. And while production delays remain due to the pandemic, the scripted business continues to boom, with the clamor for top-name talent at a fever pitch.
The key M&A deals last year included Korea’s CJ ENM clinching a $775 million deal to acquire an 80 percent stake in the scripted business of Endeavor Content; BBC Studios taking 100 percent ownership of House Productions, the outfit behind BBC One’s upcoming Sherwood; Sony Pictures Television (SPT) acquiring a majority stake in Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner’s Bad Wolf; Boat Rocker purchasing a minority equity stake in TeaTime Pictures, founded by actor and producer Dakota Johnson and former Netflix executive Ro Donnelly; and ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI) investing in Spanish-language content producer Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico. All3Media picked up NENT Studios UK’s distribution business—the entity formerly known as DRG—encompassing more than 10,000 hours of content. ZDF Enterprises picked up a 49 percent stake in REAL FILM Berlin, a Studio Hamburg Production Group subsidiary. Fremantle closed its acquisition of 12 production labels in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark from Nordic Entertainment Group (NENT Group). Mediawan and Leonine Studios took 51 percent of the shares in the U.K. production company Drama Republic. Anonymous Content and Federation Entertainment came together on a new joint venture to develop and produce premium television and film for French and global audiences. Iona Vrolyk, whose credits include The Good Karma Hospital for ITV, set up her own label, Double Dutch, with the backing of Banijay UK. Cineflix Media partnered with showrunner Morwyn Brebner and TV executive Andrew Akman to launch Husk Media, a new TV production outfit. Asacha Media Group bought a majority stake in Red Planet Pictures. Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund landed a minority interest in Paper Entertainment, co-producer on the Apple TV+ hit Tehran.
Producers and distributors were also eager to align with key talent through first-look and development partnerships, among them BBC Studios Drama Productions partnering with Mo Abudu, founder and CEO of EbonyLife Media. Warner Bros. Television Group (WBTVG) extended its extensive talent portfolio with various deals, including one with Lena Waithe and her production company, Hillman Grad Productions. ViacomCBS International Studios (VIS) aligned with Manolo and Juancho Cardona’s 11:11 Films & TV, writer and director Juan José Campanella and Chilean writer, screenwriter, journalist and filmmaker Pablo Illanes, among others. CBS Studios formed 25 Stories with Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman, signed a new overall development and production deal with Kurtzman and his production banner, Secret Hideout, and renewed its agreement with writer/producer team Robert and Michelle King.
Known IP remains a valuable commodity, with a raft of book and comic-book adaptations announced throughout 2021. Amazon Studios is adapting Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys as a six-episode limited series. SK Global acquired the rights to Dean Koontz’s latest collection of 12 short thrillers. Beano Studios and DC Thomson launched Emanata Studios to develop comic book properties for film and television. Expanding the Anne Rice universe, AMC Networks greenlit a new series based on the Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy for AMC+ and AMC. Banijay France’s Terence Films is working on Hélène Jousse’s best-selling novel The Hands of Louis Braille. Slim Film + Television and Federation Entertainment are developing a follow-up to Around the World in 80 Days and creating an adaptation of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Incendo and BlackBox Multimedia optioned the TV rights to the Ellery Queen novels and short stories. The serial killer crime thriller Dog Rose Dirt from writer Jen Williams is to be adapted as a drama series by Gaumont UK. Gaumont and Tessa Thompson’s Viva Maude teamed up to adapt Raven Leilani’s best-selling novel Luster for HBO. Roslund & Hellström’s best-selling novel Cell 8 is to become a Viaplay original. Buccaneer Media is in development to produce a TV adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s The Blade Artist, which picks up 20 years after the events of Trainspotting. Masterpiece, ITV and Mammoth Screen are working together on a miniseries to reimagine Henry Fielding’s classic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Warner Bros. International Television Production Germany acquired the exclusive international rights to Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series of crime novels. Boat Rocker Studios is developing Colson Whitehead’s novel Sag Harbor for HBO Max. FX ordered Under the Banner of Heaven, inspired by Jon Krakauer’s best-selling novel of the same name. Red Arrow Studios International and Playground are teaming up with Georges Simenon Limited to develop the classic Inspector Maigret detective novel series as an English-language returning drama. Telemundo Global Studios licensed the exclusive rights for the complete library of the best-selling Spanish author Corín Tellado.
Feature films and Hollywood lore have also proven to be fertile ground. CBS Studios and Stampede Ventures are collaborating on a limited series surrounding the making of the 1973 feature film Last Tango in Paris. A reimagining of the ’80s psychosexual thriller Fatal Attraction was ordered to series at Paramount. And podcasts too, with the likes of the Happy Face podcast by iHeartMedia and Melissa Jesperson-Moore getting series orders.
And of course, extensions of existing TV franchises remain key, from NBC reviving Law & Order to Amazon Studios prepping a spin-off of The Boys to CBS launching CSI: Vegas, a sequel to the global hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and IMDb TV ordering an offshoot of the Amazon original series Bosch, with Titus Welliver on board.