Across Europe, TV networks are looking for lucrative ways to respond to the still-growing appeal of the streaming giants. They also need to take account of the implications of a consolidating global entertainment market. And Brexit is creating further anxieties as buyers once again descend on Cannes for MIPTV.
Against this disruptive background, some common themes are emerging as international distributors prepare for business on the Croisette.
Overall, more resources continue to go into local and pan-European bespoke shows. Even the Viacom-owned U.K. service Channel 5 is moving away from its former dependence on American fare as it rethinks its programming strategy across the digital channels it operates. Tellingly, the station has not yet replaced chief buyer Katie Keenan, who exited last year.
Broadcasters need to think creatively around exclusivity and windowing as their own VOD services become more popular, and audiences—especially hard-to-reach younger audiences—clamor for box sets, series stacking and online-only debuts. The traditional players know that more VOD offerings, some backed by the Hollywood studios, will arrive soon.
Yet for all the talk of a turn toward more original content, the demand for acquired shows, provided they match programmers’ criteria, remains strong throughout mainland Europe and the U.K., which, with Brexit looming, faces arguably its biggest political crisis since World War II.
“While international content is a little less important for our major broadcasters, it has a growing significance for our smaller free- and pay-TV niche channels, as well as for our VOD services,” says Silke Regier, the senior VP of international acquisitions at Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland.
This view is reflected throughout the European TV buying community. “We are investing more in new content than we did in previous years, with a strong shift into local commissioned content,” explains Wolfgang Link, co-CEO of the entertainment segment at ProSiebenSat.1 Media.
“Danish drama is high on the priority list and we are producing more than ever,” agrees Anette Romer, the head of acquisitions and formats at Denmark’s TV 2.
She adds, “In the age of the big streamers, across the board, national broadcasters are ‘going local’—taking every opportunity to stress the local origin of a program. It makes a lot of sense in the home market, but at the same time makes it harder for the program in question to travel well.”
Jakob Mejlhede, executive VP and group head of content at NENT Group, is upbeat as he approaches the market. “As always with MIPTV, we’re looking for stories with character. We’re increasingly telling these stories ourselves through our original productions. At the same time, high-quality acquired content plays a vital role in NENT Group’s ecosystem.”
Mejlhede adds, “International films and series, in combination with originals, kids’ content and live sports, give us an opportunity to differentiate ourselves even further. I’m looking forward to seeing what MIPTV has to offer.”
So what have been some of the breakout shows in recent months? At Sky, Sarah Wright, director of acquisitions, highlights a clutch of shows scheduled on Sunday nights on Sky One—MacGyver, Hawaii Five-0, NCIS: Los Angeles and S.W.A.T.–plus other series, including Magnum P.I., 9-1-1 and Criminal Minds.
“I think, if anything, we want to spend more on content,” she says. “Our customers love acquired and original shows. I am not sure how much they differentiate between the two.”
ProSiebenSat.1’s Link singles out entertainment stalwarts Dancing on Ice—a strong performer on SAT.1 in a very competitive slot—and The Voice Senior, a successful brand extension of The Voice.
In Denmark, TV 2’s Romer mentions Naked Attraction—both the British and German versions—as a hit on youth-friendly channel Zulu and the SVOD platform TV 2 Play. Entertainment juggernauts Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor UK and America’s Got Talent: The Champions have performed well for TV 2 Charlie and the main channel.
“In factual, the high raters tend to be crime shows or other human-interest shows, most often sourced from the U.K.,” she adds. “Current-affairs pieces like Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess do not perform to the same degree, but are considered important to the channel.” A strong social media following has helped drive the success of Escape to the Chateau on lifestyle channel TV 2 FRI.
In the U.K., Lethal Weapon is a consistent audience grabber for ITV on Friday nights, says Sasha Breslau, head of acquired series. ITV 2’s biggest acquired shows remain Family Guy and American Dad. On the female-skewing ITVBe, glossy reality and lifestyle shows like the Real Housewives franchise and Property Brothers are still important. The plastic surgery show Botched is another winner.
Over on Channel 4, Nick Lee, head of series acquisitions, says The Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo and Homeland remain the main service’s flagship U.S. shows. This year the final season of Homeland will be shown by Channel 4, presenting an opportunity to fill the gap with another scripted vehicle. On youth-friendly E4, long-running sitcom The Big Bang Theory is also ending, which means there is another slot that needs filling. Meanwhile, Young Sheldon is “doing a superb job,” Lee says.
Under its new controller, Karl Warner, E4 is scouting boundary-pushing comedy. “We can be more open-minded about single-cam, prank shows and other types of comedy,” says Lee. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Goldbergs and black-ish are also strong shows for E4. That slate is not going anywhere. Rather, it’s about doing things in addition to that.” A recent innovation was to reintroduce animation to the channel with the award-winning Rick and Morty.
On sister station More4, geared towards an upscale, female audience, Lee’s MIPTV wish list includes lifestyle-led factual entertainment. “Anything with a voyage-of-discovery narrative is very interesting,” he notes. Ideally, these shows should have a tone similar to the broadcaster’s own commissions. Lee highlights Car S.O.S. and Nazi Megastructures and the recent purchase of two natural-history shows. Exclusivity isn’t always necessary. “For More4, we’re very open-minded about second windows from pay-TV or VOD platforms,” he says.
Regarding scripted shows, Lee points to the continued success of Outlander and the popularity of The Good Fight, spun off from The Good Wife. He has “an appetite to find a classy legal procedural that can play next to The Good Fight.”
On Channel 4’s VOD platform, All 4, Lee is delighted with a recent deal that saw every episode of all six seasons of The Goldbergs available for exclusive streaming, while spin-off show Schooled debuted on E4. Episodes of Schooled were stacked on All 4 following their weekly broadcast. “Obviously all rights come at a price, but I think there was sense in keeping the franchise together,” says Lee.
In Stockholm, Bonnier Broadcasting’s acting head of acquisitions, Karin Lindström, describes her approach to buying as “total TV.” She elaborates, “The content needs to work across all platforms and channels. AVOD is very much a priority for us at the moment. We launched our AVOD platform, TV4 Play, several years ago, but we are now making it a go-to destination rather than just a catch-up service.”
In the scripted space, Lindström is seeking content that can play effectively on SVOD, AVOD, linear, free and pay channels. For SVOD, followed by later windows on AVOD and free TV, the dramas The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Keeping Faith and The Little Drummer Girl (starring Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård), all exceeded Bonnier’s expectations.
She adds, “The past few years we acquired many Nordic noir thrillers. That genre is still very important to us of course, but at MIPTV I hope to identify some broader, more lighthearted shows that can run alongside the darker material.”
Lindström identifies the U.S. sitcom Younger as an example of a recent series that worked across all platforms.
At RTL in Germany, the Vox channel has successfully established The Good Doctor, but Regier warns that “U.S. series are increasingly difficult to outperform on our free-TV lineups.”
NENT’s Mejlhede emphasizes that average viewing time on the premium streaming service Viaplay is growing. “This means there’s more room for new shows to make their mark. So while our core historical performers continue to top the charts, they’re increasingly complemented by new series that we’ve secured over the past year. Recent U.S. network productions like New Amsterdam and edgier material such as Deadly Class—both of which reach our viewers on the same day and date as the U.S.—are each finding their respective audience.”
He adds, “Viewers in the Nordic region are also very aware of what’s working well elsewhere in the world and are keen to see it for themselves.” For Mejlhede, exclusivity is important.
London-based UKTV runs ten channels and on-demand service UKTV Play. Emma Sparks, head of acquisitions, says it’s “business as usual” for her despite reports that Discovery, Inc., is preparing to sell its stake to its partner in the venture, BBC Studios.
The objective at MIPTV is to find “high-quality scripted series, both procedural and serialized,” plus factual shows with “a fresh approach to the genre.”
Female-friendly channel W is in the market for contemporary glossy dramas, preferably featuring a strong female lead who appeals to the 25-to-44-year-old female audience. W is also interested in factual entertainment that can form an emotional connection with the audience.
For the Alibi channel, Sparks will be eyeing contemporary crime drama—pacey detective shows for peak and softer investigations for daytime. A recent success for Alibi was Disney’s Australian forensic drama, Harrow. The show returns for a second season this year. Sony Pictures Television’s Carter was one of Alibi’s top-rated shows in 2018, driven by a box-set preview on UKTV Play, notes Sparks.
Male-friendly Dave requires character-driven, observational documentaries. Ideally, these should have a quirky sense of humor. Flashing-blue-light shows are also on Dave’s hit list. On factual service Yesterday, Impossible Engineering was last year’s biggest hit.
“More and more broadcasters are turning towards originals and as a result, the market is flooded with fantastic content,” explains Sparks. “For us, that means we have to be clever regarding the content we pursue. We can’t compete with huge pan-territory acquisitions. I have to adapt to the new market conditions and be savvy about it.”
Since last year’s MIPTV, there have been significant upheavals in the global entertainment business, namely Comcast’s successful bid for Sky and Rupert Murdoch selling his 21st Century Fox entertainment assets to Disney. It is too early to tell how these deals will impact the acquisitions market, but buyers are already bracing themselves for change. As ITV’s Breslau says, “You’re going to have fewer suppliers controlling more content. Who’s going to be selling that content? And what rights will they reserve for their own SVOD start-ups? There are factors that will come into play that will affect us as buyers. As yet we don’t know what the impact will be.”
The shape of Sky’s future relationship with its new sister company, NBCUniversal, is sure to be a talking point at MIPTV. Now that Comcast owns both companies, does this potentially give Sky more buying clout? “I guess it does if we fully integrate,” replies Wright. “It’s too early to say.”
Like other MIPTV-bound buyers, Wright is keen to find something to make her audiences laugh. But, “Finding good comedy that really travels and has a European sensibility is not necessarily terribly easy,” she says.
“That grown-up, 10 p.m. comedy slot that we’re going for in commissioning, it would be great if we had some acquisitions there, but I am mindful that sometimes they are a bit too local and don’t travel. Or, frankly, they don’t reflect our audience’s sensibility.”
At Denmark’s TV 2, Romer would like to see more “linear-friendly procedurals” capable of attracting a broad audience. She explains, “It seems that a lot of great drama is being produced for niche channels or with a streaming service in mind.”
Finally, on the vexed question of Brexit, buyers are mainly keeping a diplomatic silence. John McVay, who runs Pact, the U.K. producers’ group, is fond of saying that regardless of the country’s future relationship with the EU, Britain will remain one of the world’s most dynamic and creative audiovisual economies for one simple reason: the demand for high-quality, British content is unlikely to diminish.
Earlier this year, Discovery announced it was relocating its European hub from London to Amsterdam. One entertainment company that isn’t planning to change its relationship to the U.K. capital is NENT Group. “When it comes to the U.K., we’ve been in London for 30 years, and we’re committed to maintaining this presence,” says Mejlhede. “This is because of the U.K.’s importance as a European programming and content acquisitions hub.”
Adds Romer, “It is difficult to predict how Brexit will influence the market, but we are certain that there will be more competition from the OTTs. That is going to influence the way we look at exclusivity and windowing. New models are constantly evolving. As long as we are successful in achieving high resonance with our audience on our linear channels while expanding on our digital commitment, we believe that we are needed.”
Pictured: Sky Vision’s Riviera.