Leading IP Owners Talk U.K. Drama Trends


Banijay Rights’ Cathy Payne, All3Media International’s Louise Pedersen, Entertainment One’s Stuart Baxter and ITV Studios’ Ruth Berry weighed in on commissioning and financing trends in British drama as the TV Drama Festival kicked off this morning.

The panel, moderated by TV Drama’s Anna Carugati, opened with the executives discussing the factors that have led to the U.K. becoming a prolific drama creation and export market. You can watch the entire session here.

“The tradition of fringe, experimental theater, the Edinburgh Festival, those kinds of events have been instrumental in the U.K. in allowing young writers a place to hone their skills, hone their voices,” said Pedersen, the CEO of All3Media International. “The TV industry looks very closely at what’s going on in that area and moves a lot of those people across to television. That’s part of it, alongside the public-service broadcasters taking risks and giving new writers a voice.”

Berry, managing director of global distribution at ITV Studios, pointed to the importance of producers being able to retain the rights to their IP. “That’s a big incentive for people to have real skin in the game and ownership of what they’re creating.”

Payne, CEO of Banijay Rights, stressed the role of the U.K. broadcast community and its efforts in “developing talent but also giving time for development.” The country’s heritage of long-running soaps and serialized drama has also created a conducive environment for training and fostering new talent, Payne noted.

Baxter, president of international distribution at Entertainment One (eOne), agreed with his fellow panelists on the legacy of the U.K.’s PSB community in investing in high-quality talent and ideas and the country’s training programs. “I think it’s the envy of a lot of other [markets] that tend to be a little more commercial, and the strength of their public broadcasters is less dominant than the BBC historically. There’s been huge fragmentation in the production community, but a lot of that training and development took place within our public sector, within the BBC. I think we have a lot to be grateful for.”

The arrival of the global streamers has led to a surge in U.K. drama, the panelists observed, leading to a squeeze on available talent pools. Plus, Berry observed, “Within the commissioning community, they’re thinking differently about what it is that they’re making and who the audience is that they’re targeting. There’s some really interesting dynamics in what the U.K. commissioners are now looking for out of U.K. production and moving more into thrillers or something more contemporary, not leaning into period as much as we used to.”

Payne said that Banijay Rights is home to several dramas that “would not have gotten made if we didn’t have a streamer partner. You’re allowing domestic broadcasters to have shows that cost at a higher budget level than they ever had before. Their contributions have gone up, but [the shows] have only been possible because we can bring in a partner.”

The streamers bringing more money into the U.K. content ecosystem has begun to “level the playing field between the U.S. and U.K.,” Pedersen said. “You used to be able to tell the difference between a big U.S. show and a U.K. show. Budgets are getting ever closer together. The thing we haven’t talked about is who pays for all of this or who takes the risk. Competing in that space, particularly if it’s trying to attach a global streamer as a partner to a PSB show, inevitably involves someone putting a lot of cash on the table up front. That’s typically a distributor, which has restricted the pool of distributors who can play in that expensive drama financing space.”

On evolving financial models, “it always boils down to the same kind of basic model,” Pedersen responded. “One commissioner, one other major co-production partner, perhaps two, a tax credit and a deficit from a distributor. And probably 75 percent of financing models can be put into that bucket. The days of you getting something fully funded and having rights to sell are not around anymore.”

Berry agreed, adding, “Our international markets lean in and out of different projects in different ways. You tweak that model based on who the likely partners will be. We slice and dice the rights to within an inch of their life these days! While all of us will admit to seeing some very healthy sales inflation in the market at the moment because of the competition of everybody coming in, the reality is that the cost inflation is outstripping that. We’ve all got to think much more thoroughly about how we deficit finance and our capability to do that and who the partners are that we can do it with. More importantly than ever, it’s about building those partnerships for those shows.”

Payne picked up on Berry’s points, adding, “The level of sophistication of the behind-the-scenes financial banking and so forth is just more intricate than it’s ever been, and a lot of work!”

“We’ve all had a lot of learning in the last few years,” Baxter said. “We’ve evolved from a market where a lot of us were distributing shows that have been largely funded, and the deficits were smaller, and we got to take them out to the international market, which was growing. Now, the deficits are getting bigger and bigger. The risk with that is bigger and bigger. Then, you have to be a lot more creative in those partnerships and do a lot more. It’s not just about financing. You need to be a banker. You need to add value not just as a distributor but creatively. We’ve learned that having three co-producers isn’t always a good idea. You can have a Euro pudding. You need to have people who’ve got the same vision and voice for the show. You’ve got to empower your writer or showrunner to make it their show.”

Distributors have had to “change the way we work,” Berry said. “We need the shows to work with our clients internationally. We need them to come back in for more content, more seasons. We’ve got this head-scratching cost inflation, particularly on the U.K. drama side. We’re all doing a great job at supporting British content internationally to come back and keep feeding the British economy and all of that talent.”

The panelists were then asked about what’s ahead for the U.K. commissioning landscape amid significant shifts still to come, including Channel 4’s privatization, cost cuts at the BBC and new regulations on the global streamers.

“We want to see a strong BBC, a strong Channel 4; we want to see them continuing to develop programs, commission a wide range of programs, take risks,” Pedersen said. “Anything that threatens that, I think, is a concern. So it’s more about saying what they’ve done that’s been great for all of us and hoping that that’s protected going forward.”