Fredrik af Malmborg, the managing director at Eccho Rights, discusses the company’s winter lineup and weighs in on trends in the international drama business.
Drama may have been the hardest hit genre following the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020, but Eccho Rights finds itself in the fortunate position of having a winter scripted lineup that was largely unaffected by the global pandemic. As Fredrik af Malmborg, managing director, tells TV Drama Weekly, the Eccho Rights slate is made up of series from markets that were able to either continue producing or got back up and running quickly. He discusses the company’s winter lineup and weighs in on trends in the international drama business at present.
TV DRAMA: How did the lockdowns of this year impact the lineup you’re preparing for your clients in Q1?
AF MALMBORG: Almost not at all. I’ve actually upped my forecast for 2021 because I’ve understood from talking to clients that there is very little inventory to buy. The American and U.K. productions [have been delayed] and they even have bidding wars for half-written scripts to prebuy. We do Nordic series from Scandinavia; there, at least in Sweden, it’s been going on. Then we have Turkey, where there have been hardly any interruptions at all. We have 25 hours a week from Turkey in production. And then, of course, all the productions from Korea we represent; all the output from CJ ENM, our majority owner, and series from other producers in Korea. They’ve been producing with very little interruption. [The interest in Korean content is] supporting the trend of the rise of non-English-language product. The appetite has become much bigger in general, even without COVID-19. And we represent quite a few Australian series, based on our representation deal with Sony. Australian dramas are amazing. They’ve also continued producing. So we have four source areas of fantastic series that have not been interrupted. We do a number of series from Russia as well, and Ukraine, that are really well produced. They’ve been fairly uninterrupted in their productions as well.
TV DRAMA: What are the needs of your clients at present?
AF MALMBORG: The obvious answer is, it’s the lighter stuff. Relationship issues rather than hardcore crime. We are selling a lot of our Nordic romance series, also some of the lighter productions from Korea. Turkish drama works quite well because it’s not about crime primarily; it’s more about human relationships, family issues. So that plays pretty well. But they will still buy good crime. In general, the advertising market hasn’t gone down much, maybe 5 to 10 percent maximum. SVOD is also booming, and the programming costs for broadcasters are down a lot because so many big, expensive shows are canceled. So I think the prices in acquisitions are going up. I think the purchasing power for good acquisitions is actually stronger than ever.
TV DRAMA: Have you seen creatives begin to insert COVID-19-related storylines into their series?
AF MALMBORG: We are adapting Nurses in four different territories and there is a dilemma—do we include COVID-19 cases or is everyone vaccinated once the show airs? I would guess that you don’t do too much COVID-19 because let’s hope we’re through this in six months.
TV DRAMA: How are you and your partners managing the increased costs related to producing under new COVID-19 guidelines?
AF MALMBORG: There is a new role on the team, COVID security person, making sure everyone is tested and has masks on. Some of the Turkish actors on productions have been ill and then you have to pause. So costs are increasing. I’m really impressed by all the producers that have managed to carry through their productions. It’s been a challenging time for producers, but they managed and I think they deserve a huge amount of credit for that.
TV DRAMA: How has it been doing business without the markets?
AF MALMBORG: Long-term relationships are getting more important. It’s harder to develop new ones. Our business is efficient, and we’re getting a lot of things done—but it is boring without travel and meeting people!