Gaumont’s Vanessa Shapiro

With its Netflix hit Narcos, the critically acclaimed narco-trafficking drama heading into its fifth season, Gaumont helped spark the now booming demand for foreign-language scripted, both in the U.S. and around the world. The show, which features dialogue in English and Spanish, is produced by Gaumont’s U.S. television arm and is now being offered up outside of the Netflix window by the company’s TV distribution team, led by Vanessa Shapiro. As president of worldwide TV distribution and co-production, Shapiro works across a diverse portfolio that also includes series from Gaumont’s French production operations, among them Murder in Lisieux and The Art of Crime, and a growing slate of international co-productions, including El Presidente, an Amazon original. Shapiro shares with World Screen her perspective on putting projects together and maximizing distribution opportunities.

WS: How are you working with creatives inside the group and third parties to bring projects together?
SHAPIRO: Working with the sister companies within Gaumont, we distribute the content they produce. For example, we license the television rights for Narcos, produced by Gaumont Television U.S., and both The Art of Crime and NOX, produced by Gaumont Television France. So any time there is an internal production, Gaumont handles the distribution, as is the case with most studios. We work very closely with the production team at an early stage, providing sales estimates and sometimes presales to raise the financing.

I’ve been heavily involved since last year on the sourcing of projects we can co-produce with third-party production companies. Our first project coming out of this development and financing effort is a show that was announced by Amazon for its 2019 slate called El Presidente. This is the first co-production in Latin America for Gaumont. We have numerous series in development and we are open to coming on board projects at various stages. We prefer to come in at the co-development stage, where we are full partners and co-production partners from day one and co-developing and sharing the costs along the way. We’ve found that by the time content is already produced, there’s normally a distribution company attached, so to get great content that fits with our clients’ needs and what we’re looking for, we have to come in as early as possible. And in some cases, we will develop our own content—I’m a distributor, but I can bring my creative team and co-develop with other production companies.

WS: How do you craft a windowing strategy for each title?
SHAPIRO: In general, the content drives where it’s going to be and when, but of course, there are always exceptions! [OTT and pay] platforms prefer serialized series. So when we develop content that will be more premium, edgier and serialized, the platforms are a main target. When developing a procedural, like The Art of Crime, that would be a broadcast play. At every stage, we always have in mind who the end buyer is going to be, a broadcaster or a platform. When we develop a concept and start shopping it around, we’re very mindful of how each show will travel and where it should live.

WS: Are broadcasters more flexible about the rights they need?
SHAPIRO: It depends on how much they want the show. The more they want something, the more flexible they are! It’s becoming extremely complicated, especially when you sell a show post a Netflix window. We are competing with a major platform available to 140 million-plus subscribers worldwide. It’s huge. So, we’re looking for creative ways to make, rebrand or repackage the content to make it unique to a channel. For instance, in the case of Narcos, the original version is 50-50 Spanish and English. Now, we’re dubbing the whole series in local languages (English, Spanish, French) for free-TV broadcasters, where audiences might not want to read subtitles. We’re doing that with all our shows, looking for the angle that will make us different from other available content. We work very closely with our marketing team and do a lot of research on what our buyers and their audiences want. Also, in the U.S., things change extremely quickly. A year ago I would have said that SVOD is exploding, and now it’s plateauing and we are seeing the growth of the AVOD platforms. It’s going to be interesting to see where that will go.