Embracing Drama

Explores the latest developments in the market for drama across Central and Eastern Europe.

Over-the-top platforms have already transformed the drama business in North America and Western Europe, so it’s no wonder that they’re beginning to have an impact in Central and Eastern Europe as well.

“There has been a surge in new OTT players in these markets, especially in Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but also in the Balkans, with, I believe, more to come in 2018,” observes Nick Pawsey, the VP of sales and distribution for CEE, CIS and Russia at FremantleMedia International (FMI). “For us, this means increasingly complex windowing of our content but also more competition and opportunity, which is always good for us and the market. The volume of both new and library content needed to keep subscriber churn rates down and the offering fresh has been a real opportunity for us. Services like ShowJet and Yandex in Russia all the way across to Pickbox in the Balkans are becomingly increasingly important as we look to partner with and support local players outside of the global Netflix and Amazon deals.”

Fredrik af Malmborg, the managing director of Eccho Rights, says that his company, too, is “selling more and more to the VOD platforms.” That trend, combined with a willingness on the part of broadcasters to look beyond the traditional U.S. studio sources for scripted content, is creating a wealth of opportunities for drama distributors across the region. Perhaps none more so than for the Turkish content powerhouses.

“Since the beginning of their popularity in the international market, there has been strong demand for Turkish series in Central and Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans, where many of our series and feature films have been exported,” says Can Okan, the founder and CEO of Inter Medya. The company has notched up CEE deals for shows such as Endless Love and Mrs. Fazilet and Her Daughters, Okan reports.

“Turkish dramas have been on air for more than ten years in the region,” says Deniz Cantutan, sales manager for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at Kanal D International. “Buyers have a high level of awareness about the storylines, casts and performance of all the Turkish programs.” She says that the company’s business has been strong across Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania, and notes that buyers are quick to snap up a show if it’s proven to be successful in its home market or other territories.

“Our business in Eastern Europe has been going very well for many years—it was one of the first markets where the boom of Turkish content happened and continues to be a big market for us,” observes Ismail Dursunov, deputy general manager at Calinos Entertainment. “Central Europe is also a valuable market for us, and we are hoping to grow our presence there even more.”

Eccho Rights’ af Malmborg says that interest in Turkish dramas in CEE “shows no sign of weakening. We have closed a number of countries for Stiletto Vendetta, Elif is going everywhere and Cennet is going everywhere. Poland is taking off well with Turkish drama. We’ve had series there for quite some time, but there’s still a good demand, and the prices are increasing. We sold out in Bulgaria and Romania, and Hungary buys a lot. Croatia has been a bit weak in Turkish drama, but they’re coming back.”

Turkish dramas form a large part of Eccho Rights’ scripted business, but the company represents a diverse array of shows from across Europe and Asia. “We’ve started to sell more Scandinavian shows, and we are also selling some Russian and Ukrainian series,” af Malmborg says. “The demand is quite high in Eastern Europe.”

FMI’s Pawsey backs up af Malmborg’s view that CEE buyers are keen to try out shows from markets they may not have acquired heavily from in the past.

“Clients are increasingly looking for something different outside of the typical U.S. studio fare,” Pawsey says. “They are bolder in their choices, willing to take risks and try more non-English-language content. FMI is well placed to supply these slots with a strong slate of diverse, premium drama from the U.S., U.K., Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, Australia and now Turkey with the success of Avlu, a local version of the hit Australian drama Wentworth, on Star TV.”

Strong sellers have included The Young PopeDeutschland 83 and American Gods, Pawsey says. “More recently, The Miracle is doing well for us,” Pawsey continues. “Picnic at Hanging Rock is now with Canal+ in Poland for their premium pay, basic and SVOD offerings and with the FILMBOX channels across the CEE region. My Brilliant Friend, as an HBO U.S. original, is going to HBO across its CEE footprint and we are now actively engaged in second-window opportunities. Alarm Für Cobra 11, which FMI now distributes along with the entire RTL Germany catalog and new series, has been a huge hit across the region on both pay- and free-TV channels and goes from strength to strength as it heads into its 24th season.”

Western European drama, in general, appears to be having its moment in the sun everywhere. Netflix recently revealed that its most-viewed non-English-language series was the Spanish show Money Heist from Atresmedia. Spanish pubcaster RTVE is looking to raise its international profile with a slate of dramas that includes the period piece A Different View and the thrillers Fugitive and I’m Alive. Moreover, the Spanish series Gran Hotel is getting a remake in the U.S. courtesy of Eva Longoria and ABC. However, Spain, a thriving drama export market, is not closed off to imports from other parts of the region. Indeed, the Spanish market opening up to Turkish distributors is seen as a promising sign for the genre’s prospects across Western Europe.

“The really big [development] is the success of Turkish drama in Spain,” says Eccho Rights’ af Malmborg. “Fatmagül premiered earlier this winter [on Nova] and is scoring 900,000 viewers every day, and we’ve sold two more series to them. Ezel will premiere later on this spring, and we have one other series coming up in the fall.”

Kanal D’s Cantutan says that after the success of Fatmagül on Nova, “the Western European market has become more fruitful for us. In recent years, we worked with Fox in Italy for Sweet Revenge. Matter of Respect was launched in France with a good performance too. Now, Fatmagül is on air on Canal+ in France. We believe this success will positively affect the nearby countries.”

Inter Medya’s Okan describes Western Europe “as a new market for us,” but the company’s efforts there are already starting to pay off. “At this year’s MIPTV, we sold our series Black Money Love to Spain and we hope to attract other European clients at the upcoming NATPE Budapest International. Our goal this year is to reach this area of the market with our vast catalog.”

Eccho Rights was able to open the Swedish market to Turkish dramas, af Malmborg says. “We’ve had good success with Turkish dramas in Sweden. They run every day on SVT. Broken Pieces will be in its third season this fall, at 7:30 in the evening. It’s performing very well.”

Calinos’s Dursunov is optimistic that more Western European buyers will see the potential of Turkish dramas. “We believe the success of our dramas will soon spread to Italy, Germany and the U.K.,” he notes.

The business of Turkish drama formats is picking up steam on the heels of Eccho Rights’ success with The End, which has been remade in the Netherlands and Spain. The scripted format business, in general, is faring well across Europe, af Malmborg reports. “There is a strong growth in dramas that are produced locally,” he explains, adding, “we have lots of scripts from Korea, so we’re adapting a few. We’ve done one in Ukraine, and more are being done there. The appetite for scripts is quite high.”

FMI’s Pawsey reflects a similar sentiment when he notes, “Licensing of scripted formats will be an area we look to pursue further this year to win slots that are typically reserved for local content. With a deep and diverse library and full production pipeline, we’re confident this will be a growth area of our business.”

Naturally for content distributors, having the ability to monetize drama adaptations is critical—but can be challenging, af Malmborg explains, noting that there has not been a strong trade in Eastern European drama within the region. “It’s time for the broadcasters in Eastern Europe to realize the value they have in their neighboring countries—and things are changing,” he says. “In every other part of the world, shows from neighboring countries are very successful. This is an area to discover and develop” in CEE, he says.

Indeed, drama distributors are feeling upbeat as they head to NATPE Budapest International, with bright spots emerging across CEE. As FMI’s Pawsey notes, “Poland is always a strong market for us, the DTT market in Poland is also highly competitive and growing and the free-to-air channels in the Czech Republic and Hungary are increasingly looking for premium European drama and event series. I think the Balkans will see a resurgence in their appetite for foreign content in 2018, outside of the Turkish content that has worked well for them over the past few years. And, Romania and Bulgaria also show signs of growth for us in the region.”

Pictured: Inter Medya’s Black Money Love.