Christian Vesper, CEO of global drama, talked about driving the expansion of Fremantle’s scripted output at the TV Drama Festival today.
“We want a diverse business,” said Vesper in his keynote conversation with World Screen’s Anna Carugati, which you can view here. “At Fremantle, we have a huge entertainment business and now we have quite a substantial scripted business. I think the market for high-quality scripted projects will continue to grow. There’s been some contraction, but the appetite remains and we absolutely want to be able to access that.”
Carugati asked Vesper how Fremantle has been balancing auteur projects against more mainstream programming. “We want our producers and our talent, our directors and our writers, to be making the shows that they believe in and that we believe in creatively and making them as strong as we can and in some ways not necessarily dictating to them that things need to be commercial in this way or auteur in another way. Broadly saying something is commercial is almost a meaningless definition because what does that exactly mean? What are the elements? Let’s make what we believe in creatively. Let’s make what we think is a strong show. And our distribution team will work with us on making sure that those shows get set up.”
On identifying shows with international appeal, Vesper noted that Fremantle’s producers are “very good at making shows for their local market, and those are often very narrow in their remit or they’re quite soft, appealing to a very ultra-mainstream local audience. We know that those don’t sell. The way we define what an international show is partly the storytelling ambition, scale, talent or relatability.”
The conversation then moved to how Fremantle’s central global team can support the scripted labels within the group. “Different producers need different things,” Vesper said. “On the creative side, it is making sure they understand the latest market intel we have: what the buyers are looking for, what the entertainment cultures in each territory are, what’s selling, what’s not. One of the things that we’ve been working really hard on over the last five or six years is making sure that our producers know how to work together as well and how to use the resources that Fremantle has as a global production and creative company.”
Vesper also talked about Fremantle’s talent partnerships, saying they are “essential in making sure that we are attracting more creative talent and increasingly better projects to the group.”
The conversation then moved to the broader disruptions taking place in the scripted business. “The American market has been hard to read. It’s important for our projects that there be a robust American market, and that continues to be tricky. That’s been hard to manage. That said, we have great relationships with the big buyers and they continue to need, if not as much in terms of dramatic series, they still need them. The models will continue to evolve. Because of the talent we work with, our reach and diversity of resources and producers, I think that we’re well positioned to take advantage of everyone settling back into a rhythm.”
While challenges remain as the streaming sector evolves, there’s plenty of opportunity, Vesper noted. “The downward pressure on budgets is good news for us in that there is more openness to co-productions than there was a year ago. There is some realization that it makes sense to work with studio partners. There was a period where everyone was insistent on raising the walls and having closed gardens. That era, hopefully for now, is at least coming to a bit of an end. I think that’s an opportunity. We seem like a big company and we are, but we’re also quite nimble. In an era of huge consolidation, there is something that comes from being as nimble as we are, but yet being part of a stable and disciplined group.”