Channel 21 International - Summer 2021

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international Everything about content

Summer 2021

Why the global streamers are targeting Africa

Mega merger: WarnerMedia joins Discovery

Making history: Is docudrama too dominant?

PLUS: C21 Content Business Trends Report | Reshet 13 Māori TV | Russia | Spain | Scripted formats | Views & More


Channel 21 International | Summer 2021 | Issue #309



Face-to-face time returns


hile the idea of attending an in-person industry event will still feel like a distant prospect for many reading this, some in the TV business are getting ready to finally swap the webinar for the hotel bar. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, there have been notable exceptions to online-only events, such as Conecta Fiction in Spain and MIA in Italy. Both of these welcomed masked-up delegates last year, alongside online elements for those unwilling or unable to travel. Now, as the roll-out of vaccines continues at varying speeds around the world, many more organisers will be hoping their events can join the list of hybrid versions able to take place in 2021. Some are even planning all-out in-person events, such as NEM in Dubrovnik, which is set to take place almost entirely outside in September, such is the reliability of Croatia’s climate. Industry events held in the UK at similar times probably can’t take such chances. But then again, just think of the opportunities to sponsor waterproof ponchos and umbrellas. Meanwhile, the organisers of annual animation event MIFA claim theirs will be the first international film festival to be held in person since the pandemic began. At the time of writing, they were prepared to welcome “several thousand” delegates from France and around Europe to Annecy in mid-June. Medieval towns in south-east France were not built with social distancing in mind, but the event organisers have insisted it will be imposed, with dedicated staff, redesigned queuing systems and


spaced-out screenings to reduce health risks. You can also imagine the amount of hand sanitiser on offer could fill the town’s picturesque lake twice over. Guidance from the French government currently states that people should not shake hands or greet others with kisses on the cheek, aka faire la bise. The pandemic is often erroneously referred to as a great equaliser, when in fact the opposite is true, given its exacerbation of what was an already vast socio-economic gap between the rich and poor. But one way it will be a leveller is in temporarily unifying how those of us from different nationalities greet each other. How to decide between a kiss on the cheek vs a hug vs an elbow bump vs a fist bump vs a wave vs a nod vs just running away the millisecond before you greet someone? This social anxiety means all nationalities will now be as awkward as us Brits have always been when greeting someone, even before we’d heard of Covid-19. However, for many, having not seen their close friends in the industry for so long, the impulse to joyfully embrace them will be hard to resist. But as we blow the dust off our business cards and emerge from our homes, let’s remember everyone will react differently to being back in the open. Just as the events of spring 2020 required a major re-adjustment for us all, so too will the (hopefully successful) gradual return to physical events. It’s still going to be business as unusual for some time yet. Nico Franks



THE C21 CONTENT BUSINESS TRENDS REPORT: Summer 2021 A quarterly outline of some of the biggest content business trends starts with the US Upfronts.


Are viewers tiring of paying VoD subs and turning to free, ad-supported television channels?


International streamers looking for new, diverse stories are helping to boost Africa’s TV revenues.


THOUGHT LEADERSHIP: Vanessa Brookman WarnerMedia is changing the kind of kids’ content it is looking for in EMEA.


COUNTRYFILE: Spain The non-English-language content boom has meant foreign investment in Spain is rocketing.


AHEAD OF THE CURVE: History docudrama Big-budget docudramas blending fact and fiction are in vogue, but is there still room for the classic history doc?


ANATOMY OF A DEAL: WarnerMedia & Discovery How the pair hope to combine their skill sets and reach streaming viewers.


CHANNEL PROFILE: Reshet 13 Israeli broadcaster Reshet 13’s Ami Glam discusses the group’s originals strategy.


THREE-YEAR PLAN: Dominion of Drama Jeff Norton of prodco Dominion of Drama on the importance of IP.


COUNTRYFILE: Russia Business is booming for Russian producers as interest among streamers continues to grow.


CHANNEL PROFILE: Māori Television Interest in New Zealand’s Indigenous broadcaster’s Māori language and culture output is surging.


AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Scripted formats As foreign-language content becomes more mainstream, where does this leave the scripted formats business?


DEVELOPMENT SLATE: A Baker Production Christin Baker on her prodco’s projects featuring underrepresented voices.


PRESENT IMPERFECT FUTURE TENSE Gráinne McGuinness of indie Paper Owl Films cites regional broadcasters as drivers of diverse and inclusive projects.



Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Upfront about things The C21 Content Business Trends Report, a quarterly outline of some of the biggest trends in the business, continues in this issue with a look at the US upfronts. Taking place online for the second year running, the occasion was shaped by consumers’ increasing shift to streaming, calls for better representation and unexpected megamergers. By Jonathan Webdale

Amazon’s acquisition of MGM has given it control of shows including The Handmaid’s Tale (top) and Survivor (below)


hile last year’s US upfronts – the networks’ annual pitch to advertisers of the shows each is betting on for the fall season – were hastily arranged as Covid-19 gripped the globe, this spring’s virtual presentations were carefully orchestrated. But any sense that the industry is settling into some kind of ‘new normal’ was further away than ever, with the parents of flagship broadcasters ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW not only pivoting towards streaming in the past 12 months but also finding themselves in the midst of another wave of major M&A, while the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement continues to reverberate. After last year’s upfronts saw the debut of ViacomCBS, this year’s event was eclipsed by the shock news of a US$43bn merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery, followed swiftly by Amazon’s US$8.45bn acquisition of MGM – home of the James Bond franchise and network shows like ABC’s Shark Tank, CBS’s Survivor and NBC’s The Voice, plus Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. At the same time, it was the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, the black man killed by a Minneapolis Police officer in an incident that sparked outrage around the world and calls for urgent action on racism, representation and inclusion in all levels of society. A week before its upfront, NBC said it was cancelling its planned broadcast of the 2022 Golden Globes out of concern over a lack of reform at organising body the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The move came shortly after research from media and marketing agency IPG Mediabrands and subsidiary Magna held their inaugural ‘Equity Upfront,’ designed to highlight the scale and importance of black-owned media outlets in reaching underserved audiences.

Also in May, the US Association of National Advertisers’ Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing published research claiming a majority of stateside TV shows remain irrelevant to many segments of the population. NBC rated best, but the rest – beyond targeted cablenets like Univision, OWN and BET – fared poorly. Netflix and Hulu performed better with series like The House of Flowers and Killing Eve respectively. Against this backdrop of unprecedented change, with cord-cutting a phenomenon of concern for the industry over the past decade, a pandemic that accelerated the consumer shift to streaming was viewed by some as a potential death knell. But despite all this, US upfront ad spend this year is projected to bounce back to near pre-Covid-19 levels. Advertisers will increase their upfront TV spending by 7.6% for 2021-22 to US$19.9bn, according to eMarketer – assuming the US economy continues to recover. Last June, the research firm forecast a 27.1% drop in 2020-21 upfront TV ad spend. This May, however, it revised its estimate to a dip of just 3.5% to US$18.5bn, as fewer advertisers than expected exited the market. “Television remains resilient overall, considering the double-digit audience declines the ad-supported form of the medium is experiencing,” GroupM global president of business intelligence Brian Weiser said in March, when the WPP agency improved its view of 2021 US ad spend – identifying a 15% rise, or 6% higher than 2019 levels. Within this range, the company foresees 9.3% growth in national TV advertising spend this year, though digital will outpace this considerably, experiencing 22% growth. “The significant expansion of content on streaming services will ultimately be helpful to growth in the broader media industry, but advertising will not likely be a driver of that growth any time soon given the limited opportunities for marketers in those environments,” said Weiser – hence the dilemma facing Hollywood studios in their pivot from network television to VoD and the delicate balance of the best business model to land on.


Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Jason Kilar, CEO, WarnerMedia Ours is a rapidly evolving industry and we are transforming with it. Together [with Discovery] we will form a new company super-serving our advertising with a promise to unite WarnerMedia brands with Discovery brands all under one banner. While there is still so much more to come, for the moment it’s business as usual. We are a company whose mission is to move the world through story. I’m so excited about everything that is happening here at WarnerMedia. We look forward to doing great things together. David Zaslav, president and CEO, Discovery It is super exciting to combine such historic brands, world-class journalism and iconic franchises under one roof and unlock so much value and opportunity. With a library of cherished IP, dynamite management teams and global expertise in every market in the world, we believe everyone wins – consumers with more diverse choices; talent and storytellers with more resources and compelling pathways to larger audiences; and shareholders with a globally scaled growth company committed to a strong balance sheet that is better positioned to compete with the world’s largest streamers. Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon We are looking forward to welcoming MGM to the Amazon fold. The acquisition thesis here is really very simple. MGM has a vast, deep catalogue of much beloved intellectual property. And with the talent at Amazon and the talent at MGM Studio, we can reimagine and develop that IP for the 21st century. It will be a lot of fun work, and people who love stories will be the big beneficiaries. Craig Erwich, president, ABC Entertainment and Hulu Originals We are proud to continue to deliver highly entertaining, culturally relevant and powerful stories that further drive our momentum as the number-one entertainment network. We’ve also made it a priority to be intentionally inclusive across all of our content, and we’re excited to introduce our audience to the rich new characters, bold stories and strong ensemble casts featured in our upcoming programming slate. Kelly Kahl, president, CBS Entertainment This season, we proved we could create a winning schedule against seemingly insurmountable odds. Next season, we aim to repeat that success with bold, strategic scheduling moves designed to strengthen nights and maximise flow across the week. We’re expanding three of our biggest, globally popular franchises, returning 22 fan favourites while nurturing our newer rising hits, and adding a host of year-round original programming that will appeal to viewers and advertisers alike.

Netflix series The House of Flowers

Charlie Collier, CEO, Fox Entertainment We are presenting a fall line-up that builds upon Fox’s legacy of bold stories and truthtelling characters – stories that meet and reflect the cultural moment. Fox believes it’s a time for series that offer hope and to speak to American audiences with themes of reinvention and second chances. Alongside our programming focus, we are forging ahead with a clear, 100% ad-supported vision. Susan Rovner, chairman of entertainment content, NBCUniversal Television & Streaming My number-one goal is to bring our audiences the best shows. If we can do that right, our other goals – which are to continue to build fandom across cable networks, establish NBC as the number-one broadcast network, and make Peacock a destination for award-winning, muststream content – will naturally fall into place. NBC has always leaned into a year-round programming strategy, but this year we’re super-sizing our summer. We have some of the best content we’ve had in years. Mark Pedowitz, chairman and CEO, The CW Network This past year brought sharp focus to social justice and racial equality issues. As a result, our industry has to take a hard look at representation and inclusion. The CW is proud of the progress we continue to make on both sides of the camera. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, and have been leading in this area for more than a decade. But we recognise that stats don’t tell the entire story. We still strive to include more diverse and authentic voices, while we also work to being a more inclusive employer, business partner and member of the community. Donna Speciale, president of advertising sales and marketing, Univision Univision is the gateway to US Hispanics and represents an untapped opportunity for brands to deliver current and future growth. According to Nielsen, brands not active in Spanish-language content are leaving an incredible 39% of ad spend return on the table and are missing out on a key opportunity to speak to the consumers who are the main growth driver in these major categories.




Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Right: Amazon Prime SVoD original Alex Rider. Below: Fox acquired AVoD service Tubi

FAST movers C

onsumer uptake of video-on-demand services skyrocketed last year amid Covid-19 lockdowns around the world, which happened to coincide with a proliferation of providers. The US, in particular, saw the arrival of Disney+ and AppleTV+ prior to the pandemic followed by a flurry of others, including HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and mobile-first flop Quibi, all eager to challenge market leaders Netflix and Amazon. Subscription services like Discovery+ and ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ have landed since, with more on the horizon. But at the same time, there has been a parallel rise in ad-supported (AVoD) offerings, and within this category free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels – those that play instantly and offer the familiar lean-back experience of linear television. While SVoD promises audiences the opportunity to ‘cut the cord’ and dispense with expensive cable contracts, for some, signing up to the growing array of competing services will soon see the bills mounting again to comparable levels. And this is where proponents of AVoD spy an opportunity. ViacomCBS snapped up Pluto TV for US$340m at the beginning of 2019 and has made it a centrepiece of its strategy, rolling out the service internationally. Comcast bought Xumo for over US$100m just ahead of the pandemic and Fox Corporation paid US$440m for Tubi soon after, similarly making it the focus of its global ambitions. Meanwhile, streaming hardware specialist Roku acquired Quibi’s content assets to add to its Roku Channel, on which, like those just mentioned, hundreds of FAST services sit.

While much of the attention around last year’s boom in online video consumption was focused on premium VoD, there’s growing evidence audiences are feeling the pinch of multiple subscriptions and seeking out free, ad-supported streaming TV instead.

And there are plenty of other outlets – Rakuten and Samsung Smart TVs being notable examples – all offering avenues for third parties to launch their own ad-supported channels, with the likes of Endemol Shine Group, All3Media, Blue Ant International, FilmRise and Electric Entertainment among those tapping into the potential. Meanwhile, Amazon, emboldened by its recent US$8.5bn acquisition of MGM, has been busy resourcing IMDb TV, the AVoD service it has built on top of its film and television database, using it as the ad-supported window for Amazon Prime SVoD originals like teen spy drama Alex Rider and recently ordering an array of its own homegrown titles. While NBCUniversal’s Peacock landed last year offering either AVoD or SVoD options, HBO Max, the WarnerMedia streamer now becoming part of the same family as Discovery+ thanks to the pair’s US$43bn merger, introduced a cheaper subscription tier with ads as of this June, going down the route followed by Disney-owned Hulu. As the VoD landscape evolves, the range of free and pay options available to consumers is expanding as rapidly as the number of available services, with each placing their bets as to where the greatest gains can be made. At this year’s US Upfronts, it was clear proponents of the former were encouraging traditional broadcast advertisers to

direct their dollars towards this model, and within this category FAST channels present an increasingly appealing prospect. Forty-seven percent of US consumers were watching FAST services as of May last year, up from 40% before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, equivalent to 18% growth in a matter of weeks, according to Deloitte. Sixty-five percent of people said they wanted cheaper, ad-supported streaming, versus 35% who preferred to pay a fee to watch without commercials. In updated figures, released this April, the consulting firm reported that 55% of respondents to its stateside survey now have free, ad-supported video. “Consumers are facing growing pressure to manage and pay for so many entertainment services. As they chase niche content and trending entertainment, people are showing strong interest in ad-supported options that subsidise or remove subscription costs,” the company said. Overall global VoD revenues will be worth US$210bn by 2026, up from US$106bn last year, with around US$23bn added this year alone, according to a report released in May by UKbased Digital TV Research. SVoD will account for US$126bn of this total, representing some 60% – a slight dip on last year’s 62% share, with AVoD rising to 32%, equivalent to US$66bn.

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

THE C21 CONTENT BUSINESS TRENDS REPORT: Summer 2021 Roku picked up shortlived shortform streamer Quibi’s content assets

Danny Fisher, CEO, Filmrise Audiences have discovered new channels and new ways of looking at things in the past year. Right now, we’re finding that the free adsupported services are by far the fastest growing in the US and across the world. International is three years behind the US. The future of FAST and AVoD is a combination of the two, so if you put on a FAST channel, you will be able to rewind to the beginning and fastforward or start from the first episode. This rewinding functionality draws people in via FAST channels and flips them to the on-demand experience. That seamless transition is the future. Lauren Anderson, co-head of content and programming, IMDb TV We are trying to build a modern broadcast network. We are being daypart-agnostic. We’re looking at what people are fans of and bringing that to streaming. These projects mark an impressive and exciting growth moment for IMDb TV. The calibre of talent and the variety of content is a brand hallmark for us as we look to diversify the entertaining and broadly appealing offerings available on the service. Jack Davison, executive VP, 3Vision If you look at the FAST channels today, a lot of them are actually simple extensions of traditional media outlets. Many brands that have come out of traditional TV feature heavily on FAST channels in the US, and there’s no reason broadcasters couldn’t try to capture a part of this market. What FAST channels are doing is targeting that slightly lower investment and ambient, lean-back, kind of wallpaper viewing

that consumers do, have done for years and will continue to do. There’s no reason that the traditional players can’t extend into that space. Charlie Collier, CEO, Fox Entertainment We are forging ahead with a clear, 100% ad-supported vision. Fox’s acquisition of free, ad-focused Tubi has allowed us to expand our broadcast offering, bringing scale across both linear and streaming, all without any paywalls or subscriptions. This is a strategy that deepens Fox’s relationship with our audience and advertising partners, and it will continue to set Fox apart. Fox fuels Tubi, and Tubi fuels Fox. Nothing happens at Fox that doesn’t drive Tubi. Adam Lewinson, chief content officer, Tubi Subscription fatigue is a thing. People do ultimately look and say, ‘Well, I already cut the cord, so why am I paying for all of these subscriptions?’ Certainly, during a pandemic – which has lots of tremendously painful issues, some of them being economic for so many people – you look at your bill and if you are paying US$9.99 a month or US$12.95 a month for two or three SVoDs, you may decide to cut a few. And then there’s AVoD. Viewers by and large are still very comfortable with the trade-off of some of their time in exchange for free TV. Carlyn Staudt, global general manager, Love Nature Audiences around the world are displaying a growing appetite for free programming to add to their ever-growing entertainment offering. FAST continues to be an exciting

opportunity for Love Nature as we seek out new audiences for our awardwinning content in the US. Joining Samsung TV Plus is a significant milestone for our brand as the launch has allowed us to tap into their highly engaged and loyal audience of millions of households.” Abi Jacks, VP of international marketing, Rakuten The challenge for brands, and media companies, is there are no advertising opportunities with SVoD, which means they are missing out on reaching the highly engaged audience spending time on these platforms. Our research shows 60% of consumers would likely sign up to AVoD offerings when the service is described to them, and across Europe, 26% would be interested in streaming sport on an AVoD service, placing this ahead of all other streaming options, including payper-view and monthly subscription services. Media companies should look to offer innovative new models to advertisers that enable them to appear where audiences are. Dean Devlin, CEO and chairman, Electric Entertainment People still like the lean-back experience of television. The Netflixes of the world are very leanin. There’s this comfort of having the TV on and getting sucked into something. This comfort food of AVoD will become more and more available. Pluto showed us you could have these linear streaming channels in the VoD universe. Roku now has Roku TV, and Amazon and IMDbTV are also starting to offer channels. Rather than rewinding it, you are able to go over to the VoD section and catch up with the episodes you missed. The fact that this is doing well with very small awareness means it has a very high ceiling.




Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Queen Sono

Africa rising Television revenues across Africa are increasing, with pay TV on the march, spurred on by overseas investment – especially from US streamers – tapping into the continent for stories appealing to audiences in search of more diverse and authentic programming.


ay TV subscriptions in Africa will rise to 51 million in the next five years, while revenue from OTT platforms across the continent is expected to more than quadruple to US$1.7bn over the same time frame. These findings, from UK-based analysis firm Digital TV Research, come as overseas players such as Vivendi, owner of French broadcaster Canal+, increase their presence in the territory and US streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV+ make significant gains in building their own. At the same time, demand for more authentic, diverse programming on the global market means African storytellers are benefiting from the interest of overseas players keen to bring a rich new seam of content to their audiences. Showtime in the US, for example, recently greenlit Shaka: King of the Zulu Nation, a period drama from CBS Studios and Propagate about the Southern African chief, to be directed and exec produced by Antoine Fuqua. Earlier this year, the international production arm of Sony Pictures Television signed a two-year exclusive first-look deal for all scripted TV projects coming out of Nigeria’s EbonyLife Media. Shortly after, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios partnered with the same company to work on TV and film projects connected to the African continent, and EbonyLife

last year signed a pact with Netflix for original movies such as Òlòturé.The US streamer last year released its first African original series, Queen Sono, soon before it signed a deal with Star Wars actor John Boyega’s UpperRoom Productions to develop a slate of nonEnglish-language African movies. Netflix accounted for 57% of Africa’s SVoD subscriptions at the end of 2020, with almost two million, and that figure is expected to more than triple to 6.3 million in the next five years. While Disney+ won’t land in Africa until 2022, it’s expected to attract 3.1 million subscribers by 2026, putting it in second place. Local player Showmax, which ended 2020 with 668,000, is forecast to reach two million over the coming five years. The latter’s South Africa-based parent, MultiChoice, which operates sub-Saharan satellite service DStv (lining up its own big-budget Shaka series, Shaka Ilembe) and smaller pay offering GOtv, had 15.5 million subscribers across both platforms at the end of 2020, with the number likely to rise to 19.7 million by 2026. Digital TV Research principal analyst Simon Murray foresees a “marked slowdown of satellite TV growth” in Africa, but predicts China-based StarTimes and StarSat will experience the biggest gains in this area, with their combined subscriptions in Africa increasing from 10.1 million at the

year end to 16.9 million by 2026. France’s Vivendi already has 5.4 million subscribers to its Canal+ satellite TV and EasyTV digital terrestrial services in the territory, projected to rise to 7.9 million, while its local streamer MyCanal launches in Africa later this year and is expected to have 622,000 subscribers by 2026. Two years ago, the company acquired Nollywood producer Rok from Nigerian streamer Iroko, while last year it partnered with the latter to launch a mobile-first SVoD service. But it’s the inroads the US streamers are making that are particularly intriguing, given their proven ability to shake up markets through investment in on- and off-screen talent, as well as their ability to surface and scale local stories on the global stage. And while Netflix may be leading the charge, Amazon Prime Video will see African subscriber numbers increase to 689,000 from 130,000 in the next five years, according to Digital TV Research, with Apple TV+, which launched in Africa late last year, rising from 9,000 at the end of 2020 to 136,000 by 2026. Smaller players, such as US-based cablenet The Africa Channel and Kenya’s Africa 24 Media – operator of factual SVoD service Yebo – are also taking advantage of the opportunities offered by proliferating OTT outlets to reach new audiences around the world.


Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Mo Abudu, founder and CEO, EbonyLife Our key focus and mission at EbonyLife Studios and EbonyLife Media is to create the largest continent-wide ecosystem within which we harness and grow our creative economy, creating countless opportunities for all that work within our sector, in front of and behind the screen, never forgetting that our primary aim must be to tell stories that are world-class, exciting, relevant and entertaining. Our vision at EbonyLife is to tell global African stories from our perspective.

Yolisa Phahle, CEO of general entertainment and connected video, MultiChoice Group We’ve seen Nordic noir become popular, we’ve seen Mexican cinema and Mexican directors claiming welldeserved accolades in Hollywood, and we’ve seen how Indian content has travelled really well around the world. So we believe that the world is now hungry for and will be interested in stories that come from Africa. We aspire to be Africa’s most loved storyteller, bringing the world’s best stories home while taking African stories to the world. Antoine Fuqua, director and exec producer, Shaka: King of the Zulu Nation This project offers a gateway to our past that is so critical to our global history and yet so often marginalised. We hope to bring this saga to life – all the tears, sweat and blood, all the joy and sorrow, all the intimacy and intensity and humanity. In short, we’re going to rock the world with this one.

Eli Shibley, senior VP and head of international TV and film, Westbrook Studios As we set out to focus our initial slate of international content for the studio business across a diversified set of key territories, the creative energy and world-class artistry coming out of Africa is undeniable. We are thrilled to be working with a best-in-class producer like Mo and her EbonyLife team to tell stories that uniquely celebrate African characters and perspectives and resonate with fans of great film and TV around the world. Dean Cates, VP of digital strategy and marketing, The Africa Channel’s Demand Africa Part of why we launched Demand Africa was we wanted to create an ‘African Netflix.’ Ours is an AfricaÒlòturé

first, diaspora-first strategy. It’s about getting people out of the idea that only Africans can watch this content. There are global citizens who are interested in other people’s cultures, food and lifestyle. And right now, our focus is to export African stories to the world and build that market. That is the greatest win-win for everyone. Jacques du Puy, president, Canal+ overseas Now that Canal+ is close to having two million pay TV households in Africa, our ambition is to widen our audience to those whose mobile is their main entertainment device. Iroko’s original approach, integrating popular content production and mobile SVoD, perfectly matches our group’s entertainment vision in French-speaking Africa. This will also allow us to make more accessible the content we specifically produce and design for the African market. Jason Njoku, CEO, Iroko Canal+ has more than 20 years’ experience of delivering content to Francophone Africa, we have an unrivalled Nollywood content catalogue and we have pioneered VoD in Africa. Together, we will be giving the many millions of French-speaking Nollywood and telenovela fans unprecedented access to content that has previously been inaccessible. We believe truly amazing yet affordable content is the right balance to strike in sub-Saharan Africa, and [the Vivendi] deal is testament to that. Asif Sheikh, CEO, Africa 24 Media Africa doesn’t have its own History Channel, Biography Channel or Discovery Channel, yet we have those channels from the international broadcasters. What we’re trying to do is showcase Africa in those genres through those lenses, all made in Africa by Africans. The biggest challenge now is to tell the world that the content is there. Our strategy over the next year-and-a-half is to slowly grow Yebo in pockets in the areas we think we want to give access to, and then we hope that, as people start to come in, it can start going global.


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Channel21 International | Summer 2021

New kids on the block The Amazing World of Gumball

While the launch of its streamer HBO Max in key parts of EMEA may be a way off yet, WarnerMedia is already changing the kind of children’s content it is looking for in the region. By Karolina Kaminska


021 has already been a big year for AT&T-owned productions, such as The Amazing World of Gumball, The WarnerMedia, with the recent shock announcement Heroic Quest of the Valiant Prince Ivandoe and Elliott From of its merger with factual giant Discovery, the Earth. The original Hanna-Barbera Productions was founded steady expansion of streaming service HBO Max and the relaunch of iconic animation studio Hanna-Barbera in the US in 1957 and became the first studio to have in Europe. Another big change for WarnerMedia in the significant success with television animation, spawning EMEA region was the promotion of Vanessa Brookman to iconic hits such as Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones and The Jetsons. The relaunched brand will produce new originals, head its children’s department in late 2020. Brookman’s new role integrates operational, editorial “embodying the spirit of Hanna-Barbera,” in addition to supporting WarnerMedia’s and creative responsibilities for all kids’ content and The needs of a streaming existing IP, Brookman says. Expanding on content and channel brands in EMEA service mean you have to producing more originals is into a single remit, through be broader and mean more to also a key factor in preparing a department currently the division for the future made up of seven execs plus more people, and that’s what roll-out of HBO Max in the Brookman. we’re working on. So there region, albeit one that’s “For the first time in are huge opportunities for still a good few years off in our EMEA history, we’ve combined the people who producers and the creative community markets such as the UK due to HBO’s existing licensing look after our channels and to do more with us. agreement with European businesses in the individual Vanessa Brookman satcaster Sky. EMEA regions with our WarnerMedia Ahead of its planned shared central function, which looks after the production and creation of content, rollout in the Nordics, Iberia, Central Europe and parts both for the linear space and for digital. We’ve combined of the Middle East and Africa later this year, Brookman those two businesses together to create a unified kids’ says she is looking for original preschool series, family EMEA business that makes us more agile and a lot swifter and female-focused content and live-action shows aimed at tweens in order to extend the breadth of WarnerMedia to make decisions,” Brookman says. One of the department’s core focuses for the remainder Kids EMEA’s offering. “Linear networks in the past have been very targeted. of the year will be to turn Hanna-Barbera Studios into WarnerMedia’s flagship television animation outfit within [WarnerMedia-owned] Cartoon Network targets 6-11s, EMEA. It will build on the company’s pipeline of European Boomerang targets 4-7s, etc. But when you’re talking u




about HBO Max, what we really need is breadth, variety and an expansive range of content so that we can be all things to all kids as much as possible. So we’re looking to expand into genres that we haven’t traditionally focused on,” she says. A key area on which the company is building is preschool. In countries like the UK, Ireland, Turkey and Italy, and across the Middle East, WarnerMedia has a modest preschool offering through its Cartoonito brand. With Cartoonito soon to launch in the Americas, WarnerMedia is working to expand its slate. “We don’t have a reputation for preschool at the moment so we are looking for originals in the preschool space as we seek to build on our Cartoonito offering in the region,” Brookman says. On top of that, the company is seeking family- and female-focused content, in addition to live-action for tween audiences. “Traditionally, Cartoon Network has probably not been known for its family offering. But as we move into HBO Max, it’s crucial that we are devising and developing ideas and content that all of the family can sit down and enjoy together,” the exec says. “We’re also looking at our girl audience. Traditionally, we’ve been a very boy-focused network, so we absolutely need to attract and entertain 50% of the kids’ population, which is our girl audience. And then we also definitely need to move into the space of live-action; we need to appeal to more tweens. “The needs of a streaming service mean you have to be broader and mean more to more people, and that’s what we’re working on. So there are huge opportunities for producers and the creative community to do more with us that they wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to do six months ago. “We’re going to continue to work with the European kids’ community and we’re really open-minded to hear about any projects that target kids and family audiences, from preschool to tween and from comedy to factual.” Despite the prominence of HBO Max in WarnerMedia Kids’ plans, Brookman insists that the linear channels remain central to the company and will continue to play a key part in its strategy. “I can’t really overemphasise the absolute integral need and rationale for the linear networks in our business. They’re absolutely crucial to what we do,” Brookman says. “We have huge reach across our region in terms of the success of our linear business; last quarter we reached something like 155 million people. We continue to invest in those networks and we definitely want to make sure we are finding the best content to super-serve our audiences in that space. They are fundamental to our future. “Not only is it important for the linear business but it also helps us to expand and communicate our HBO Max plans. Linear channels remain a vital part of our infrastructure and are an amazing shop window for our content. If you look at the amount of people that come to them every month, it is an absolutely phenomenal number of children, so why would you not preserve that? We have a distinctive brand and distinctive heritage that we’ve built up over the last 26 years and I feel that is something that absolutely needs to be preserved, maintained and invested in for the future.” Elsewhere, WarnerMedia Kids is making efforts to support diversity and grow inclusivity in its business against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and a television industry dealing with issues of racism

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

European properties The Heroic Quest of the Valiant Prince Ivandoe (top) and Elliott From Earth

and discrimination. “For us, it’s a total no-brainer,” Brookman says. “We are deeply committed to diversity and inclusion – not just as a moral imperative, although that’s probably the overriding one, but also from a business point of view. I can safely say that Cartoon Network is probably one of the most diverse kids’ brands in the market. We’ve always had a reputation for being a very welcoming, open place for all sorts of diverse perspectives. “We built our reputation over the years on making sure that, through our shows like The Amazing World of Gumball and Steven Universe, we are diverse, open and inclusive, that everybody is welcome and we are a place where everybody’s point of view and perspective is relevant. “As a business, we’re making sure we hold ourselves to task, that everybody in our company is accountable through a performance management process and that we collectively and individually perform in the area of diversity and inclusion. We have individual campaigns across our region and there’s more to come. We try to make our business, our brand, our programmes and our content feel like everybody is welcome.”

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Channel21 International | Summer 2021

La casa de papel (Money Heist)

Spain’s gains Amid a non-Englishlanguage content boom, foreign investment in Spain is rocketing as international players covet the 500 million people around the world who speak Spanish. By Oli Hammett


mong all the non-English-language content now being watched around the world, Spanish series such as Money Heist and Elite have become some of the most prized. The boom in consumption of Spanish-language programming has led to companies from around the world swooping on local producers in Spain to gain a foothold in the region. Other ways of entering the market have included agreeing joint-venture deals on projects and setting up studios in the country. Netflix, for example, expanded its studio space in Madrid in April, having opened a hub there in 2018. Companies from France, Italy, the UK and more are all getting in on the act – but for what reasons, and what do they expect to get out of these ventures? Production and distribution giant Banijay expanded its presence in Iberia with its purchase of Endemol Shine Group last year, and now owns eight prodcos across Spain and Portugal. Banijay Iberia country manager Pilar Blasco says the expansion of foreign companies into Spain is due to changing market demands: “Nowadays, Spain is attracting a lot of interest from the international players – not only streamers, but other UK- or US-based broadcasters too. The reasons are clear to me: we’re professionals with good content, good creatives and competitive budgets.”

Banijay supports all its production companies from a distance, with Blasco saying that their independence is key to maintaining the variety of their output. Banijay can assist with anything from development to post, and while Blasco knows what’s going on among the eight subsidiaries, she says Banijay’s clients need to feel that each of its companies offers something different. This, she adds, is vital to maintaining the competition that has led to the quality content coming out of Spain in the first place. Blasco also highlights the money the Spanish government is putting into the production industry to make it more competitive globally. The fact that the government has identified TV as a route out of Spain’s recent financial troubles was enough to convince TF1owned French prodco Newen to buy two Spanish companies in the space of two weeks earlier this year, local production group iZen and prodco Kubik Films. The former’s output includes Netflix’s first Spanish reality show, Insiders, while Kubik is behind award-winning Movistar+ drama series La Zona. Newen Group MD Romain Bessi said at the time of the iZen acquisition in late April that his company was extending its business in Spain because of the size of the market, with more than 500 million people around the world who speak Spanish. “Spanish-language content is


Channel21 International | Summer 2021


more attractive to global players than it has ever been and we want to benefit from Spanish and European IP and expand it globally. There is also strong government support for the production industry in Spain and production costs are lower than they are in France, the UK or Germany. Overall, there is financial support, content that can travel as a format or finished tape and talent in Spain both on and off camera. It ticks all the boxes,” said Bessi. At the end of April, UK-based ITV Studios (ITVS) and its Italian production subsidiary Cattleya set up a drama prodco in Madrid called Cattleya Producciones. ITVS MD Lisa Perrin says the move was driven by both buyer demand and the opportunities that Spain presents as a gateway to other territories. “Cattleya had been asked to do Spanish-language productions by streamers, so it felt like a natural move,” Perrin notes. “In Spain in the last five years, the number of new drama commissions has increased five-fold at a time when nonEnglish-language drama is white-hot, and we wanted to get involved with that. However, it’s not just about Spain – it’s about meeting a global demand for premium Spanishlanguage drama in Latin America and the Hispanic US.” Perrin says the role ITVS plays is to support Cattleya’s Spanish venture, giving the new prodco creative autonomy to make high-end drama that it hopes will attract

audiences around the world. New Cattleya Producciones MD Arturo Díaz knows the local industry well, having worked at Spanish broadcaster Atresmedia before spending the past five years at Netflix. He says Cattleya is aiming to make projects with a variety of buyers, including US-based players and the domestic networks. “The situation here is unique, as we have the newest streaming platforms – Netflix Amazon, Disney+ and HBO Max – making local content for the first time. Then we also have a Spanish broadcaster with a lot of experience like Movistar,” Díaz says. “If we’re looking at the biggest recent Spanish hits, they were made by the older national broadcasters. As well as having the biggest shows, those broadcasters are now reinventing themselves for the modern day, so they’re a very interesting opportunity still.” Top-level creative talent, access to the Americas and government benefits are all reasons European companies have been trying to get involved with the Spanish industry. Now that they’re there, however, how can they stand out from the established producers and networks that have already done so much for Spanish content? Díaz says Cattleya Producciones has the advantage of being backed by a major player in ITVS, which can send Cattleya’s shows out through its global distribution pipeline. When it comes to standing out from other global players in the region, however, he says quality is what counts: “If I think about standing out from the crowd, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘premium.’ Premium is a quality standard that goes from the way we do deals to delivering a show, and that premium brand comes from a company’s output. “That’s the way we are going to differentiate ourselves – having local content that can travel internationally and compete at the same level of other international producers.” u

Spain is attracting a lot of interest from international players. The reasons are clear to me: we’re professionals with good content, good creatives and competitive budgets. Pilar Blasco Banijay Iberia




Above: Lisa Perrin and Arturo Díaz Below: Kubik-produced drama La Zona

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

However, Díaz is keen not to put too much focus on making a show internationally appealing, as he feels that they key element of foreign success is a local flavour. From his experience working in Spain, he says the shows that have travelled well have been the ones that have resonated with home audiences first. If a show has been a local success, buyers are more likely to be curious about it, he adds. Meanwhile, Perrin says that as well as a local focus, Cattleya puts its own stamp on its shows to help them stand out: “Spain and the Spanish-language market is incredibly competitive at the moment, but it can only be a good thing that Cattleya Producciones is bringing fresh stories to the market. Cattleya is known for a certain genre and we will be building on that in Spain as well, aiming to produce shows of the same quality.” While French, UK and Italian companies have recently been acquiring, setting up and collaborating with Spanish producers, some local prodcos have operated under the ownership of major national companies for years. Buendía Estudios, for example, is jointly owned by Spanish broadcaster Atresmedia and telco Telefónica, known for making the local version of reality format RuPaul’s Drag Race. Ignacio Corrales, Buendía Estudios’ MD, says he is very happy being owned by domestic companies with links to the rest of the Hispanic world: “We make our content for the international market, and our parent companies help with the distribution pipeline from Spain to Latin America and the rest of the world. This ends up being a two-way street, as they can bring the best from those territories to their domestic markets. “It’s that combination of local and global that we’re after. We want to be a platform for other Spanish or Latin American producers to get on board and open the playing field. Ultimately, Telefónica and Atresmedia have t hat reach, and we want more partners to come on board the ship.” With firms like Buendía Estudios enjoying a steady stream of content to and from Latin America, how does a Spanish producer benefit from being in business with a French or Italian-owned company like iZen or Cattleya, whose reach extends to countries rather than continents? Corrales says that while the Hispanic market is important, a show’s ability to corner a variety of markets can help Spanish prodcos on the business side: “Any foreign company going into business with a local producer has to bring something to the table. The key quality it has is connections with buyers in other territories, while the Spanish company already has the talent but not the influence. “A French buyer or collaborator will have contacts in their territory and will know

Spain can offer financial support, content that can travel as a format or finished tape and talent both on and off camera. It ticks all the boxes. Romain Bessi Newen

how to sell to them, so that’s half the battle. Jointventure deals are the same – an Italian collaborator has better access to the market and it’s a stronger pitch than a Spanish company going in alone. A company that can launch a show in multiple territories has a much better chance of holding on to the IP when selling the format, which is key nowadays.” A potential worry for local producers is that the saturation of the market with foreign players selling their content globally means Spanish companies without that reach will be priced out of the market. Corrales, however, believes the competition is healthy. “It increases competition among producers but it also increases Spain’s overall potential to compete in the international market,” he says. “Spanish producers can expose their work in more and more territories, and this increases their ability to go toe to toe with the big players. Size is everything nowadays, and several European companies are at that international level now. It’s really important that the Spanish industry develops – and the bigger it gets, the better.” Corrales says that as long as Buendía Estudios keeps the quality of its product up, its shows will sell internationally. He mentions that his company regularly works with local producers on joint ventures and is always looking for more opportunities. What he wants is for the Spanish industry to grow as one, and having European production powerhouses involved enables that to happen. Expecting the scripted production boom in Spain to peak at some point, Blasco is keen to see other genres benefit from it to maintain the industry’s momentum. And just as streaming has helped bring more Spanish-language drama into people’s homes, she is hopeful entertainment formats could be next. “We’re going to have a second boom, but in entertainment formats this time, once the scripted rush is over,” Blasco says. “Streamers are starting to commission more and more entertainment, and in Spain we have a long history of making it. We’ve been observing Korea and Turkey’s work in formats and we want to have these kinds of big shows. We’re currently launching a new IP format in Portugal and we want to do more. The next generation of independent streamers will be open to producing new ideas or testing formats in other territories.”


AHEAD OF THE CURVE: History docudrama

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

History in the making Big-budget docudramas blending fact and fiction are in vogue, but is there still room, budgets and demand for the classic history documentary? By Oli Hammett


he history genre has long been a banker for TV channels worldwide, mainly in domestic markets. UK audiences, for example, have seen plenty of docs about Henry VIII and the Blitz using talking heads, archive footage and re-enactments. In the past year, however, newly commissioned history programming has started to offer audiences something different: fact-based docudramas. Series like Netflix’s The Lost Pirate Kingdom, which debuted in March, use highend CGI combined with drama and a small amount of historical expertise to cinematically depict life in the days before cameras. The result is a far cry from traditional history docs. But what’s behind this blending of docs and dramas? Alan Griffiths, founder and CEO of UK indie World Media Rights (WMR), which made The Lost Pirate Kingdom, feels the move to a “new genre” is necessary to appeal to today’s viewers. “One of the problems with drama is that it takes egregious leaps in dramatic licence – it makes things up. The general demographic that we’re aiming at – 15- to 30-year-olds – doesn’t like that because it has a big aversion to fake news. They want everything to be authentic,” Griffiths says. “We decided to take a risk. We said to Netflix, ‘Let’s make something that’s 90% drama but has interviews to prove that nothing is made up.’ We also took it more upmarket in terms of effects. Always assume your audience is smarter and more curious than you think.” Aside from targeting a more youthful audience, WMR’s move into docudramas is part of a wider company strategy that goes back to its inception. Griffiths says he set up the firm in 2007 predicting that, eventually, all TV would be shown online. As the TV industry becomes increasingly international, he says series like The Lost Pirate Kingdom are better able to travel than their forerunners.

One of the problems with drama is that it takes egregious leaps in dramatic licence – it makes things up. The general demographic that we’re aiming at doesn’t like that because it has a big aversion to fake news. Alan Griffiths World Media Rights

“In 2007, there was no global market for factual. But Netflix is available all over the world and you have to make content that appeals to people everywhere. Until now, factual series have all been very culturally specific. Something like Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain is great for a UK audience, but on the world stage it’s parochial.” Another key feature of The Lost Pirate Kingdom is its narrative structure. A six-parter, it aims to hook audiences and become a binge-worthy series. According to Ralf Rückauer, VP of unscripted at Germany’s ZDF Enterprises, which coproduced the show with WMR, factual series with dramatic appeal are more likely to be picked up by streaming services. “Shows that mix genres are a better fit for online platforms, as they’re not thinking about specific themes for specific slots. People aren’t interested in a lean-back experience, they know what they want to watch and they watch it,” Rückauer says. “With linear channels, something that’s part documentary, part drama is going to confuse their scheduling and at least some of their viewers will be disappointed. Streaming audiences aren’t so interested, they just see something on pirates and decide to watch it.” As a historical show’s ability to travel becomes

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: History docudrama

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Tony Robinson’s History of Britain centres on the lives of ordinary people

more important, streaming platforms are the buyers producers need to impress. Over the past few years, and especially in 2020, audiences have flocked to SVoD services that offer a variety of content with wide appeal. In some cases, producers have tweaked the make-up of their shows with this international potential in mind. In March, ZDF Enterprises acquired the German docuseries One Day In… from local prodco Story House. The series is a departure from Story House’s previous output, which is known for more traditional techniques like reconstructions and presenter-led storytelling in shows like History of Weapons. One Day In… takes a snapshot of a certain moment in time through the eyes of a historically researched protagonist. The lead characters range from a German medieval knight to someone living in the ruins of Dresden in Age of 1946. The series Samurai: has also added Battle For universal stories Japan to the mix, such as someone living in pre-revolution Paris and German immigrants arriving in New York. One Day In… exec producer Sigrun Laste says that as well as helping the show’s international appeal, the globalisation and dramatisation of factual history content is helping producers change how people see historical events. “We always look for appealing moments in time because the core idea of the

programme is to stop telling history from above, from the perspective of important people or kings,” she says. “We want to ask, ‘What was life like for ordinary people?’ It’s interesting to discover that there are always parallels and universal topics that repeat themselves. The episode about New York clearly has more international appeal, but it’s also got something for our domestic audiences as Germans were among the largest group of immigrants there.” The move to dramatic storytelling in history programming is also part of a drive to bring a wider audience to the genre. Laste says that people who never watched history shows before are being drawn in by the narrative and visuals. “The drama element is fundamental to these docudramas. It brings the moment in history to life and it also draws in new viewers. The drama is the hook that makes it more tangible for the audience, and the narrative drives the show forward. There’s always something at stake. It’s natural, graphic storytelling, which is a great vehicle to bring someone into a new show,” she adds. Laste reveals that, according to her research, traditional history viewers now make up a small component of One Day In…’s audience. She also thinks the fact that audiences have more choice than ever is driving the blurring of fact and fiction, as it’s simply more appealing to a wider audience. Another series that shows the power of internationally targeted history content is Age of Samurai: Battle For Japan, which was released on Netflix in February. Produced by Canada’s Cream Productions, the series heavily dramatises well-researched real-life events. Kate Harrison, Cream’s president, says historical drama series such as Vikings have inspired factual series to do something similar. “We’ve seen that audiences love immersive historical experiences and Vikings did that very successfully. Our samurai series would normally have to compete against a blockbuster film about samurai. As a result, the big players in history are leaning into these drama series. The factual side ultimately has to keep up with them, as talking heads simply aren’t as interesting,” says Harrison. Companies like Cream are attempting to make shows that will appeal to as many people as possible. A very specific factual history series, Harrison points out, will just not be as attractive to mainstream audiences as a dramatised retelling of the same story. But how will this change in u



AHEAD OF THE CURVE: History docudrama

the future? Harrison sees the genre having a wider focus as it broadens its appeal even further. “There are a lot of ways to tell current stories by looking at the past, and people are more interested in what’s going on in the wider world than ever before. The access is also better than ever; people can choose between streamers and linear channels. So history is always going to have an audience,” she says. The broadening of history programming’s scope is largely due to on-demand services needing a show that can work all over the world. With SVoD historical content sometimes looking more like scripted drama, how is the attitude of linear channels towards history changing? The UK’s Blakeway Productions, owned by Zinc Media Group, has a longstanding relationship with local pubcaster Channel 5 for historical content. The channel is known for either archive-based historical shows like World War II in Colour or history shows led by well-known figures such as Dan Jones or Tony Robinson. Zinc Media’s creative director Emma Hindley says the way Blakeway makes history shows has also changed recently, but not in the same way as docudrama series. “As little as five years ago history was a white man standing on a hill, often talking about ancient history. Recently two things have happened: the focus has become much more contemporary and it has also become more Netflix’s The Lost focused on social history, looking at the lives of real people Pirate Kingdom rather than monarchs,” Hindley says. uses CGI and a One such show Blakeway sold to Channel 5 recently was cinematic approach season two of Tony Robinson’s History of Britain, which tells the story of the UK through the eyes of ordinary people. Hindley sees this as traditional history content but with a on international history as its primary duty is to serve more modern focus. She says there is still room for archive a domestic audience. Willis admits this narrows the footage and talking heads; what matters is the treatment broadcaster’s options slightly, but echoes Hindley in saying of the subject and the focus of the series. Like streamers, it’s about how you look at the same story from different perspectives. The network wants to hit the middle ground however, she sees wide appeal as crucial. “History shows should never feel like homework, they between docudramas and traditional history shows, and should appeal to as many people as possible and we should Willis feels there are more ways than drama to keep the be looking at and interrogating everyone’s perspective of audience interested. She sees the channel’s role as bringing the traditional history series it. Ultimately, all television should into the modern day, and a factual be entertaining, even the saddest There are a lot of ways programme’s originality is crucial to it documentary. However, SVoDs’ to tell current stories being commissioned. international demands mean they “If it’s a subject that we’ve done have to do shows on a very broad by looking at the past, and subject. We can sometimes be more people are more interested before, how are we going to do it in a different way? Is there something specific but look at it from a more in what’s going on in the fresh? Have you got new evidence, appealing angle,” says Hindley. wider world than new documents, new archives, OTT buyers want as wide a scope ever before. something that’s just going to make as possible, but what about the it feel different? As a commissioner, linear buyers that Blakeway has Kate Harrison that’s what gets you really excited a relationship with? Like Hindley, Cream Productions and makes you think a show ticks all Channel 5’s factual commissioning boxes,” she says. editor, Lucy Willis, says the network’s For now, linear broadcasters remain the best place for output has become much more contemporary. “Over the last five years we’ve reinvented history at the more traditional history shows, albeit with a new angle channel. We really know our audience and we pitch our on the subject. As well as freshness, Channel 5’s Willis history at the right level for them,” says Willis. “One of the is looking for producers to step away from contemporary things that we’ve been doing is focusing on narrative-driven history and reimagine the ancient history doc. “It’s really important that we don’t forget important history or stripped events. We did the first one of those a few years ago about Pompeii, which was presented as historical periods,” she adds. “We all get so excited by the a three-part boxset over three nights. We scheduled it at Murdoch dynasty or series about Putin that we actually 21.00, in a primetime slot, which we would definitely not forget the Second World War or the Ancient Egyptians. You have done before. The continuing narrative kept audience can be telling a story from 2,000 years ago and discover people had the same emotions and dilemmas as we have members coming back and we’ve come to own that style.” Interestingly, however, Channel 5 rarely focuses today. We can’t ignore that side of history.”

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Emma Hindley

Sigrun Laste




Channel 21 International | Summer 2021


of a deal

WarnerMedia & Discovery H

BO owner WarnerMedia and factual giant Discovery animated riff on Shark Week may not emerge, or, more are hoping that marrying their very different skill likely, tie-ups with Animal Planet, a brand that feels ripe for sets will make them the streamer of choice among a ‘Jnr’ version, especially given WarnerMedia’s animation expertise. consumers. Live-action content, meanwhile, has always been a rarity The media market went merger-mad in May as big players took radical steps to take on the might of Netflix, on many of WarnerMedia’s children’s brands. There was Disney+ and a seemingly endless stream of other services outcry among the diehard Cartoon Network fans in the early 2010s when the channel’s former boss, Stu Snyder, tried to with a plus symbol at the end of their name. With an estimated enterprise value of US$150bn, what bring non-animated shows to the schedule, with dire results. Discovery Kids, however, regularly features real kids on is set to be known as Warner Bros Discovery will combine screen and could offer WarnerMedia a space for the two companies’ considerable channel brands, programming with a factual slant that would studios and streaming services. Widely viewed have previously felt off-brand on its more as telecoms behemoth and WarnerMedia escapist, humour-driven kids’ channels. owner AT&T throwing in the towel on the Paradoxically, the strength of Discovery’s media business it acquired for US$108.7bn hours of content, which spans food, home, only a few years ago, it follows similar programming adventure, survival and true crime, often tie-ups between media giants like The across lies in its indistinctiveness. It is wallpaper Walt Disney Company/21st Century Fox, WarnerMedia and programming, often watched by people when Viacom/CBS and Comcast/NBCUniversal Discovery they’re doing other things, like the ironing or in recent years, largely in response to the cooking. This may sound harsh, but The Laundry disruption caused by streaming. Guy, one of Discovery+’s recent originals, is literally Atop the infographic released when the deal was about a man who is really good at doing laundry. announced were Discovery+ and HBO Max, In other words, it’s the opposite of the kind the respective companies’ relatively new of premium drama and comedy found on streaming services that are in various stages HBO, the jewel in WarnerMedia’s crown, or of growth around the world. The content the edgy late-night fare found on the wildly company will own one of the deepest brands owned by underappreciated programming block Adult libraries in the world, with nearly 200,000 the merged entity Swim. There are vast differences between hours of programming from across more WarnerMedia and Discovery, which may than 100 brands, including HBO, Warner amount to a stronger merged company. Bros, Discovery, DC, CNN, Cartoon Network, As the streaming world continues to evolve, HGTV, Food Network, TNT, TBS, Turner Classic the fragmentation we’ve seen in recent years may Movies, Wizarding World (Harry Potter), Adult be reaching its peak, with consumers saying enough is Swim, Eurosport, Magnolia, TLC, Animal Planet and ID. At the start of June, David Zaslav, president and CEO of enough and settling on a handful of services. Niche services Discovery and the future CEO of the proposed combined will double down on their respective niches, overserving the company, talked about mixing Warner Bros’ “storytelling underserved, as WOW Presents Plus exec Fenton Bailey excellence and bold risk taking” with the “Discovery DNA recently told C21, borrowing a line from LiveXLive Media’s of authenticity, exploration, innovation and quality.” The firm Dermot McCormack. Meanwhile, warehouse-style streamers like Netflix, has also pledged to seek to create more opportunities for under-represented storytellers and independent creators Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock, Amazon Prime, Apple and propel more investment in high-quality, family-friendly TV+ and whatever the combined Discovery+/HBO Max service ends up being called (unless the two keep their non-fiction content. With family programming in vogue and co-viewing a names and come as a bundle) will aim to offer the most habit likely to endure after the pandemic, we could see comprehensive libraries of scripted, unscripted and kids’ more junior spin-offs from many of Discovery’s unscripted content as possible. While HBO may be arguably the most prized asset and reality hits. Whether or not kids will share the same enthusiasm for DIY shows and “flipping” suburban houses in the merger, it could turn out that Cartoon Network and WarnerMedia’s other iconic family brands, including Harry in the US Midwest as their parents remains to be seen. While we are unlikely to see kids’ versions of some Potter, make the difference when consumers are deciding of Discovery’s many true crime series, who’s to say an which service to pay for.



David Zaslav (above) will lead the combined company, which will own content such as the Harry Potter films



Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Originals thinking Big Brother (photo: Micha Loubaton)

Israeli commercial broadcaster Reshet 13’s chief creative officer Ami Glam discusses the group’s new originals strategy and approach to partnerships. By Gün Akyuz


ith the arrival of Reshet 13’s international arm, 13Global, at the beginning of this year, the Israeli commercial broadcaster has embarked on a new strategy to develop original content involving models and approaches to international collaborations that embrace the streaming age. According to Ami Glam, Reshet 13’s chief creative officer, the past year has given him and his team a period to revisit and evolve their originals strategy, as well as repair the channel’s fortunes. The broadcaster launched 13Global, which is also headed by Glam, in January. Its mission is to develop and create content that will sell internationally, with Reshet 13 the initial launchpad. Spearheading the move is a trio of titles, including its latest drama Blackspace (8x43’), about a high school shooting, which Netflix picked up in April. The sale is a particularly pleasing development for Glam, who targeted international success as one of his goals for Reshet 13’s originals slate when he joined in 2018. A further three as-yet-undisclosed scripted shows are now in the pipeline,

while Blackspace has been renewed for a second season. Another Reshet 13 success, and also part of the 13Global strategy, is its new dating format Find Me Somebody to Love, from prodco Abot Hameiri, which Fremantle is now shopping internationally. “I know that Fremantle is already negotiating a few territories,” says Glam. Reshet 13 has a trio of new formats in the pipeline under this new strategy. “For all of them, it’s this combination of taking Israeli creativity from our screen and taking big risks on the development of new shows,” says Glam, emphasising that Reshet 13 and local viewers come first, but second – and no less important – is a show’s ability to travel internationally. “For us it’s just the start. On one side, we have been focusing on stabilising our own channel, which has had a very rocky time in the last few years,” Glam acknowledges. A major disruptor had been the on/off merger between Reshet and Channel Ten, following the expansion of Israel’s terrestrial market into three ultimately financially unsustainable commercial channels, and which was

finally concluded in January 2019. However, Glam says that in the past year Reshet 13’s new management has succeeded in putting the network back on the right track, with some great ratings successes and some “very important economic measures.” “I can say that after a bit more than a year we are in a good position,” he says. Although it did not disclose actual data, in early spring 2021 the channel reported a 15% year-on-year share growth and a younger overall audience demo than its main rivals. “We are in the middle of a very exciting era for Reshet 13 and it’s great to be here at this time,” says Glam. “We are making our way in the Israeli industry and now going international.” Last year saw Reshet 13’s international reality franchises Survivor and Big Brother underpin and stabilise its ratings. Both shows delivered big ratings for the channel, with Big Brother attracting an average 27.8% share in 2020 and 26% in 2021


Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Reshet 13 is also preparing a fourth season of X Factor following a three-year pause, with creator Simon Cowell lined up as one of the judges. Under the latest deal with Fremantle, Cowell’s Syco Entertainment and Universal Music Group (UMG), the new season will also be hitched to Israel’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2022, with the winner also signing a recording deal with UMG’s fledgling Israeli division. In previous years, the winner of Keshet 12’s rival talent show Rising Star has represented Israel in the competition. This month Reshet 13 also announced it had picked up international gameshow Money Drop in a deal that brings the format back to Israel after a 10-year break. The local version will be made by Banjiay-owned Endemol Shine Israel, which also produces Big Brother and locally co-developed format Game of Chefs for Reshet 13. Alongside revamping its existing line-up, Glam says the pause during Covid got it

Drama series Blackspace (photo: Ohad Romano)

over its run from December to March. Meanwhile, Survivor pulled in up to 31.2% between May and September. “We had to adjust them first to the Covid-19 era, and second, to a channel that was really struggling,” says Glam. Stripped across the weekly schedule, Big Brother ran for four days and Survivor for up to five, with the two shows the main focus of the channel during their run. Reshet 13 also deployed this scheduling strategy to help bolster audiences for the smaller shows that ran alongside. Newcomer Find Me Somebody to Love was one of those to benefit, says Glam. The 11-episode format aired in primetime last fall from early October, to great success. Now airing in primetime is the latest season of Games of Chefs, a format developed under Reshet and ITV Studios’ former joint venture The Lab back in 2014. The next season of Big Brother is due this summer, followed by Survivor, which is currently in production.

thinking about developing new original shows. “Because of Covid, we had the time to stop and think,” explains Glam. “It was basically a great chance to come from a crisis like Covid with new thoughts about what shows we really wanted and how to do them. It was about digging in, going inside and understanding the best way, and we used this crisis to go forward much stronger and in a much better way.” Glam says Reshet 13’s target this year is to develop three unscripted and three scripted projects, which is what he believes is needed to renew Reshet 13’s line-up. “We are definitely focusing on enriching our existing formats, as well as creating new formats and new shows for our audience,” he says. “We’re thinking about our screen first of all, but secondly, about developing our global work, because if we only seek new formats to buy we won’t be able to work in the global arena.” On the scripted front, two projects are already in the works, with a third close to being agreed. In the unscripted space, Reshet 13 has three originals in the pipeline, all yet to be revealed. One has already been produced, a second is in preproduction and a third is expected to be greenlit very soon, says Glam. The exec adds that two of the new unscripted formats have global potential, one in the food competition arena and the other a dating reality show. “Both have something that has never been done before,” says Glam. “It might be a big flop, because we’re taking a risk. But if it’s a success here, I believe it has a great chance to go out and succeed in other places.” The third unscripted format is more locally focused and fact ent-businessrelated. All three are due to launch on Reshet in 2022, with more details due to be unveiled in the next couple of months. Reshet is also eyeing large studiobased entertainment formats. “This will take some time as we have only just started looking u

Because of Covid, we had the time to stop and think. It was basically a great chance to come from a crisis like Covid with new thoughts about what shows we really wanted and how to do them. Ami Glam Reshet 13




Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Primetime format Game of Chefs (photo: Or Danon)

New dating format Find Me Somebody to Love (photo: Noy Dekel)

at that field,” says Glam. “Original or acquired, it’s something we are lacking on our channel and something we’re definitely looking for.” Reshet 13’s established international partnerships include deals with Banijay Group and Fremantle, which remain ongoing. However, Reshet 13’s new direction with 13Global opens up opportunities for new pacts. “This is work we have just started. We want to do partnerships with specific channels in specific territories. We’re currently speaking with a few of them but we haven’t signed with anyone yet,” says Glam. Reshet 13 is “totally open” to partners from across the globe, he adds, noting talks are currently underway with potential partners in Europe and Latin America. Explaining his approach, Glam says: “We’re discussing co-

developing and co-airing, which is one of the things I believe is the way forward in the international arena. Once we do something like that and tackle two different audiences in two different territories, it will give [a format] a better chance to go out to the international market.” Under this model, two different parties would work on the same project, each developing and coproducing in their own territory, says Glam. “It will also give us a different and unique way of handling new formats. The world is becoming smaller and smaller, and if we want to develop and co-operate on new shows, this is the only way to find the ‘new voice’ and new format, and a new way of reaching out to the world.” To reinforce his point, Glam cites how global streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime are influencing content. “It’s pretty obvious that scripted shows travel, especially from Englishspeaking countries, but also from non-English-speaking in the past few years. The non-scripted show has always travelled as a format and is adapted in a different way for each territory,” he says. “Now when you have a nonscripted show airing on Netflix or Amazon, basically airing simultaneously in the international arena, it means you need to speak a new [televisual] multi-language. This is one of the ways we need to look at new shows and new developments, and see how a specific original show can speak this new multi-language from the start.” For Glam, however, the story remains core to any of those approaches, whether it’s reality, factual

entertainment or scripted. “It’s always about finding that universal story that everyone can relate to, no matter what position they come from. But at the same time, you need to find your USP, the thing that makes your story and your format unique and stand out,” he says. Given Israel’s own competitive landscape, Glam says Reshet 13’s formats need to be loud and bold to stand out. “It’s easy to say but not easy to find,” he notes. “Those are the two magic words, [as well as] the right story that speaks to everyone. Once we get that, which is very difficult and very rare, we’re on the right path to go international.” By this time next year, Glam says he would like to achieve one major success with a new original Reshet 13 format and has high hopes for the new as-yet-undisclosed large-scale reality format. “When I put on Survivor or Big Brother, it’s a guaranteed success. Once we have our big, new original show and it’s in its second or third season we will have succeeded. Once you know that you can rely on your own original shows it can be considered a success,” he says. On the scripted front, Glam says Reshet 13 has targeted three or four new big scripts each year and expects to start launching the next production in 12 to 18 months time. None have been revealed so far but Glam says one of them, adapted from a highprofile Israeli book, promises to be among Reshet 13’s biggest scripted shows so far. The other two involve a big, well-known Israeli story and an original script. All of Reshet 13’s scripted shows need international partners from the start, says Glam. “We can’t and we don’t want to do those scripted shows by ourselves.” So far, Reshet 13 has not ventured down the scripted coproduction route with another TV channel or platform, but Glam says he’s not ruling that out. Blackspace was coproduced for Reshet 13 by DramaTeam and France’s Federation Entertainment, which also distributes. “For me, it’s about looking for new ways to work with other partners in ways that we haven’t tried before,” says Glam. “We also need to be up to speed with the way in which formats and shows are spread worldwide, and shown in different territories at the same time. It’s about what that next step of creating is and what the next step of taking something to the international arena is.”


Video editing made 70% faster Improve video workflows, find scenes instantly and build a searchable library with Nova from PromoMii PromoMii’s Nova A.I. software has streamlined the video search, archiving and editing process with a ground-breaking video search tool that can save hours of time and costs for editors and content owners. The software is easily integrated with all standard video editing software, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Avid and others. The innovative software offers the unique ability to look through hours’ worth of footage and decades of video archives in seconds to find what you are searching for. Nova A.I. makes original footage and existing video content 100% searchable, down to the tiniest of details. You can search for anything, including people, emotions, objects, activities, words and even shot types. This will allow you to spend a fraction of the usual time searching for needed material and give you the ability to create and maintain a searchable video database. Instead of spending hours manually searching for specific Michael Moss scenes, not knowing what is in your archive and having to review content again and missing deadlines because a scene was missed, you can now do this in seconds knowing that no scene is lost. PromoMii is gaining widespread approval among a variety of content owners for its extraordinary capabilities including users Disney, NENT and SVT. Where did Nova A.I. start? When PromoMii’s co-founder and CEO Michael Moss saw that content owners and creators in the industry were bogged down by archaic video search processes, he knew that A.I. technology could simplify the process. He set out to create hyper-efficient video search and logging software to improve their workflows and started developing the Nova A.I. platform in 2018. The software’s time-saving capabilities should have a profound impact within the video content industry. According to Tigran Mnatsakanyan, chief technology officer (CTO) at PromoMii, the software will save its users up to an impressive 70% of their time, making the video viewing and logging process a breeze. What does Nova A.I do? Once the video content is analysed you can then search and find whatever If you need to find every scene in your footage library containing Scarlett you need by entering parameters into the search bar. The search bar in the Johansson, smiling and positioned next to a horse, you simply select the dashboard contains a vast amount of search options, including: corresponding search labels from the menu, and all scenes containing a smiling Johansson next to a horse can be found in an instant. Or perhaps you • Shots: The entire content displayed as individual shots separated by cuts or are working on a new season spot of upcoming shows? Instead of watching when the camera changes angle. every upcoming show and manually searching • Facial attributes: Items such as moustache or for desired moments within the content, you “PromoMii has been a big support on a glasses and emotions like happy/sad. can use Nova A.I. to find every scene you need in documentary film I was working on as an • Celebrities: Any public figure/celebrity. seconds. assistant editor. I was logging archival • Collections: Teach Nova to find non-celebrities by You are also able set templates with specific material and I was impressed with how the uploading a photo of them. labels, transcribe audio to text, and get software was able to identify faces on lower • Objects & Activities: This category covers automatic subtitles. Multiple and foreign res footage.” everything from a basketball to forest, fire, running languages are not a problem, as Nova A.I. Fay Gartenberg, client and aerial view. understands 38 languages. The software is • Moderated labels: Scenes that might need to be compatible with all standard video editing moderated such as violence or nudity. software, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Avid, and others. How does it work? To get started, simply upload videos or footage to Nova A.I.’s safe cloud storage. It takes around 25 minutes to upload and completely analyse two hours of content. The software will analyse the data, then label the video content automatically.

All the above can be combined into highly specific searches such as the example of Johanson (Celebrity) + smiling (Facial Feature) + horse (Object). After entering the search parameters, the software comes back with results from across the collection of material. You can select one or all of the scenes and export to your favourite video editor.

30 JUNE > 3 JULY 2021




Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Three-year plan Dominion of Drama

Jeff Norton

Jeff Norton, founder of recently established prodco Dominion of Drama, discusses the importance of IP and his belief that creative can – and should – drive commerce. By Oli Hammett.


hen Canada’s Kew Media Group collapsed last March, it took Jeff Norton’s UK-based prodco Awesome Media with it. Six months later the Canadian author-turnedproducer was back with a new company, Dominion of Drama (DoD). Norton’s ethos with the new company is to use it as a vehicle for adapting his own works, as well as other people’s. As someone who has spent his entire career bringing books to the screen, Norton sees IP as vital to DoD’s strategy over the coming years. “IP is very important for two reasons – one is creative and the second is commercial. Creatively, a lot of the heavy lifting has been done, but commercially it’s never been so important. There’s an arms race going on right now and no one wants to take risks. One way to de-risk a project is to say it’s based on IP.” Norton feels that while commerce is important, creative should always come first. The commissioning market, he says, is too fickle for producers to make what they think buyers want. “Things come in and out of fashion. One thing you constantly hear buyers saying is they’re not interested in period pieces, but sometimes they’ll commission one like Bridgerton which resonates with an audience. I never try to be led by the market, but I try to be responsive and having multiple projects with good variety buys us the opportunity for a conversation.” Another way Norton intends to have conversations is through collaborating with other producers – something he sees as vital to DoD’s success. He mentions “virtual scale,” the idea that the more partners you have, the higher production value you can have at no extra cost. According to Norton, this strategy was essential to

I never try to be led by the market, but I try to be responsive and having multiple projects with good variety buys us the opportunity for a conversation. Jeff Norton getting DoD off the ground in the first place. “When I started out last year I was completely bootstrapping. I wanted scale but I had no financing. My value was either in my own creative or others’ IP, and that enabled me to collaborate with others. I see DoD as more than a production company – we’re trying to be like a virtual studio.” How does Norton feel about the end of Awesome Media? After passing through all the stages of grief, he now feels people have wrongly blamed Kew’s end on its structure. “People have been quick to say Kew was doomed from the start,” he says. “The model they were trying to set up – disparate production assets all working on their own, with a central chassis of distribution – is the same as All3Media or Lionsgate. Ultimately, Kew just didn’t have the money and I went in there slightly naive. “At one point they asked if they could pay me weekly, and then that just stopped. For most of 2019,

I was running the business on my own personal credit card and Kew were completely insolvent. I’d say I have my eyes more open now.” Starting afresh with a slate that includes police procedural Shambles and an adaptation of Caroline Mitchell’s Truth & Lies, Norton is keen to keep creative ahead of commerce in the coming years. However, he fears for the future of creative TV with the increased level of commerce as major studios vertically integrate their content and are less open to taking risks. “Certain players holding on to their content is a threat if they don’t want to buy yours, but if they’ve pulled out of deals with other platforms who are now left without a supply of content it’s an opportunity. We, as the creative community, can step in and provide that.” In the upper echelons of premium TV, we are seeing Hollywood’s fixation with IP come through in the big-budget productions on streamers such as Disney+. And Norton is wary that just as mainstream cinema has become dominated by superheroes, so too could TV. “I am worried about what happens after the socalled ‘golden age of drama.’ After the golden age of cinema, we had the blockbuster and the appetite for risk went down. Now we have almost entirely IP in the movie business, which isn’t the only thing I want to watch. That could be the darker side of the gold rush for TV IP.”



Channel21 International | Summer 2021

The bear awakens Business is booming for Russian producers as interest among streamers continues to grow, with Netflix ordering a lavish local drama and scripted players looking to move beyond Moscow noir. By Ruth Lawes


hile Russia has a long history of being at the forefront of global arts and culture, from Tchaikovsky to Nabokov via Eisenstein, its television series have yet to make a similar splash abroad. That could all be about to change, however, with recent announcements showing global streaming platforms are picking up Russian-language drama left, right and centre. The surest sign yet of its growing appeal is Netflix taking a punt on its first original Russian-language scripted commission, Anna K. A “lavish and contemporary” retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the project is Russian through and through, with shooting locations in cosmopolitan Moscow, historic St Petersburg and Russia’s distinctive rural landscape, with 1-2-3 Production on board to produce. The Moscow-based prodco is also behind drama To The Lake, which follows a group of people who survive a mysterious plague. It appeared in Netflix’s top 10 in 59 countries worldwide and in the top 10 foreign Netflixbranded originals of 2020 in the US. Other US-based streaming giants to jump on the trend include Amazon, which picked up Russian Affairs from Start Studios, the production arm of Moscow-based media group Yellow Black & White (YBW), last year. Following a small-town girl who dreams of opening an art gallery, the drama was the first Russian show to be distributed in Europe by Amazon Prime Video. Non-English-language platform Walter Presents, meanwhile, acquired its first Russian-language drama, The Sect (Cekta), in 2019. Produced by Les Films de la Strada, the horror series follows a psychotherapist and a nurse who run a covert deprogramming operation, specialising in controversial methods of liberating the members of dangerous sects. It may appear that the international business has only started taking note of Russian-language drama in the past few years, but Evgenia Markova, CEO of Roskino, the state agency promoting Russian content abroad, says interest

has increased steadily. “Global sales of Russian content have grown by 20% per year. Russia is among the top 10 content exporters in the world, in terms of theatrical release, in line with France, Germany, Spain, the UK, as well as new players like South Korea and China,” she says. Nadiia Zaionchkovska, executive for international affairs, sales and coproduction at 1-2-3 Production, attributes this boost in sales to a change in attitude among international buyers. “Releasing or broadcasting a drama series in Russian is not an obstacle anymore,” she says. “A barrier has been removed by acquisition and commissioning teams in Europe and the US and we are happy to see doors opening wider and wider.” But what exactly are the hallmarks of Russian-language drama and what sets it apart? Daria Bondarenko, executive VP of sales and coproductions at YBW, likens Russian-language drama to Matryoshka (aka Russian) dolls. “The shows are multilayered and with each layer the viewer learns something new or unexpected. Storylines never pan out as audiences would predict, and that’s why it is becoming so popular,” she explains. Yulia Sumacheva, CEO and general producer at Banijay-owned Russian outfit WeiT Media, on the other hand, compares the dramas to Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. “Russian productions focus on the depth and sharpness of internal conflict, very much like Dostoyevsky, who was not as interested in external conflict in his books. Often in Russian shows, the resolution can only be brought about by sacrifice or self-sacrifice or constant repentance,” she explains. It is perhaps not surprising, then, given the complex subject matter, that the term ‘Moscow noir’ has emerged. Considering its Scandinavian counterpart gripped audiences around the world with crime dramas such as The Bridge (Bron/Broen) and The Killing (Forbrydelsen), could the Russian twist on the genre be the next global phenomenon? For some Scandi players, the ‘Nordic noir’


Channel21 International | Summer 2021

To The Lake

term became something of an albatross around their necks, albeit a highly lucrative one. And among Russian executives, the jury is still out on whether the new label is limiting or useful. Despite admitting the term has helped to put Russian producers on the map, YBW’s Bondarenko is keen to point out that they excel in more than just violent, gritty thrillers. For example, fantasy series The Vampires of Midland follows a family of amiable vampires who never kill humans, until some lifeless corpses threaten to shake up their peaceful life, while drama Container is about surrogacy. Both are produced by YBW. With Russia’s vast and diverse landscape, which lends itself to multiple and varied filming locations, Bondarenko claims there is huge scope beyond Moscow noir. “You could shoot anything in Russia, whether it be a modern procedural, a comedy or a period drama,” she says. Diana Yurinova, executive VP of Art Pictures Distribution, says that the rise of Moscow noir has little to do with Russian producers, who pump out a broad range of programmes, from comedies to animation,

and is instead connected to what tends to travel. “International buyers are not interested in all types of content,” she explains. “The most appealing programmes for international buyers are Russian thrillers, psychological dramas, disaster series and historical series.” For 1-2-3’s Zaionchkovska, the recent success of Russian prodcos has been several years in the making. “The industry in Russia has been working hard for the past decade to evolve, learn and grow and has also been supported by resources from broadcasters and, more lately, local streaming platforms,” she says. “Last year, this effort grew into results. Now, we have stories, talent and skills to deliver fresh and unique content and compete in the international market. We have learned how to position our projects, how and who to pitch to, and we have invested in relationships and proved that we can be trustworthy long-term partners.” Robert Franke, VP of ZDFE.drama at ZDF Enterprises (ZDFE), which represents several Russian-language dramas, including the Sherlock Holmes-inspired Sherlock: The Russian Chronicles, says the upward trajectory of Russian dramas has followed a common pattern. “It’s the usual boomerang effect: global platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu acquire numerous Russian event series, which go on to achieve ratings success. That is followed by Russian shows going on to receive award nominations at festivals, which leads to Russian production studios growing more ambitious and wanting to coproduce, advertise and sell more internationally. The final piece of the puzzle is international distributors, like ZDFE, Beta, Cineflix and others, partnering on Russian-language series. It’s a route that has been taken many times before,” he explains. u

From top: Daria Bondarenko, Diana Yurinova and Yulia Sumacheva

257 Reasons to Live




Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Top: Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident’s buyers include Topic in the US and Fox Germany. Above: Fantasy series The Vampires of Midland. Right: Start Studios’ drama Russian Affairs

Russia has a unique and authentic culture that combines Western and Eastern influences. That’s why Russian content is in high demand: it’s interesting and features references understood by people from Europe to America, and in Asia. Leonid Godik Beta Film

Zaionchkovska at 1-2-3 pins much of the recent interest in Russian content on the initial attention of the streamers, many of which are open to edgier fare. In the past few years, new streaming platforms have been popping up all over the place, from major players such as Disney+ to smaller, localised SVoD platforms, like Mola TV in Indonesia. “The streaming boom is phenomenal,” she says, “It has removed barriers including genres, formats, topics and budgets, meaning people are more open to new and different content. Thanks to streamers, we can address new topics, be bolder, address younger audiences and be more creative. It’s a new world of opportunity.” Distributors are being a little modest about their influence on the Russian-language drama boom, according to Nadia Rekhter-Gareva, head of international and development producer at Star Media. “What is changing now for all of us is the growing interest of international distributors in Russian-produced content. To name just one example, Germany’s Beta Film is becoming a great partner for us when it comes to making Russian content travel,” she says. The role of Beta Film’s Leonid Godik as VP of international sales and acquisitions for Russia reflects the company’s dedication to the market. Among the

Russian-language shows Beta currently shops are mystery noir thriller Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident, set to premiere on First Look Media’s North American streaming platform Topic and on Fox Germany in the summer, and drama Trigger, which has been sold to broadcasters including Globo in Brazil and Hot in Israel, as well as Japan’s VoD service U-Next. Produced by 1-2-3 Production, Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident explores the circumstances around the tragedy that struck Russian student hikers in the Urals in 1959. Trigger, produced by Sreda for Channel One Russia, is about a provocative psychologist who uses unconventional methods to solve the problems of others but finds his own life in chaos when he is found guilty of causing a patient’s suicide. Godik says Russian-language dramas appeal far beyond Russia’s borders. “Russia has a unique and authentic culture that combines Western and Eastern influences,” he explains. “That’s why Russian content is in high demand: it’s interesting and features references understood by people from Europe to America, and in Asia.” Historically, Russian content has been sought after across Eastern Europe and CIS countries, says Art Pictures Distribution’s Yurinova. “Russian-language dramas are also ordered in countries where there is a significant number of Russian-speaking diasporas – for example, Germany and the US,” she adds. But as more territories find Russian shows on their platforms, will remakes become another equally buoyant market? For Beta Film’s Godik, they are already on the cards. “Currently we have three highconcept Russian shows in our catalogue. These are comedy drama 257 Reasons to Live, survival drama Six Empty Seats and thriller Alibi, which have huge remake potential. We are already negotiating some format deals,” he says. But Star Media’s Rekhter-Gareva isn’t convinced that remakes will be necessary. “While Russia has many innovative ideas that can be sold as formats, my bet is that original content will be able to continue to travel internationally. This is because of the high-quality production values and exceptional talent in Russia, and we produce programmes with universally appealing themes and stories.” Rather than format adaptations, YBW’s Bondarenko hopes that coproductions become more common. “It would be great to see Russian drama combined with something else,” she says. “I really support, believe and trust in coproductions and believe one between Russia and a big European country would work well.” Art Pictures’ Yurinova believes that in the next five years Russian-language dramas will be readily available on every major platform. YBW’s Bondarenko, meanwhile, suggests buyers will branch out and commission Russianlanguage content in different genres. “There is already growing interest in Russian documentary series and animation,” she says, pointing to Netflix launching Wizart Animation’s feature film for children Secret Magic Control Agency around the world in March. Based on the classic story of Hansel & Gretel, the family-friendly film is a far cry from Moscow noir, showing Russia has plenty to offer beyond dark dramas.


CHANNEL PROFILE: Māori Television

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Māori Television, New Zealand’s Indigenous broadcaster, is as committed as ever to the promotion of Māori language and culture as interest in its output surges. By Nico Franks


āori Television is New Zealand’s Indigenous broadcaster, providing a wide range of local and international programmes for audiences across the country and online. When it launched in 2004, the broadcaster identified long-term goals of significantly contributing to the revitalisation of the Māori language and being a relevant, effective and widely accessible independent television service. 17 years on, the broadcaster has established itself as a crucial piece of New Zealand’s unique culture, at a time when the kind of inclusive and diverse content it produces is more in demand than ever before, while also facing the same declining youth audience familiar to nearly every broadcaster around the world. Māori Television has a statutory obligation to inform, educate and entertain while broadcasting in the Māori language. Its schedule is a mix of locally made programmes, in-house content and free-to-air sport, alongside acquired international programmes and films. Meanwhile, it’s increasingly common to hear te reo (the Māori language) spoken on New Zealand’s other TV channels, particularly during the news and during the introductions to entertainment programmes. Lanita Ririnui, who returned to Māori Television as a commissioner in 2019 having held various roles in the local screen sector over the past two decades, is intent on continuing to support important and engaging Māori stories as execs at her fellow Kiwi broadcasters, such as TVNZ and Sky, step up their efforts to do the same. Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government won last year’s election by a landslide with a manifesto that pledged to rectify the

absence of Māori, the Indigenous Polynesian people of mainland Aotearoa (the Māori word for New Zealand), their history and stories in the country’s media. Obviously, Māori Television has something of a head start in these efforts and Ririnui is happy to see more of the country’s broadcasters investing significantly in Māori content that is produced with the whole country in mind.

5 Minutes of Fame host Turanga Merito

Cultural “It’s no longer just Māori Television that is looked at for support, it’s become a lot wider with other broadcasters, which is a good thing, as we only have so much resources and money. What it shows is that demand for Māori stories has increased so much that it’s now more than we can hold,” says Ririnui.

Moreover, there are certainly enough stories to go around. There is diversity within diversity and, as Ririnui points out, New Zealand is an extremely multicultural country, with people of mixed heritage being an ever-growing demographic. “We’ve got a massive

range in terms of other cultures here. There’s a big Pasifika contingent, there’s a big Asian audience. So naturally there are also intercultural stories and it’s important to reflect those as well, because there are both celebrations and challenges within being, say, like myself – I’m Māori, I’m also from the Cook Islands and I have links to Chinese heritage. And I haven’t even started on my Pākehā/European links.” Ririnui’s aim, therefore, is to ensure more people like her are reflected in the on-screen stories of Aotearoa. When audiences come to Māori Television, be it via linear TV or online, they tend to be tuning in for something specific, driven by the broadcaster’s slant towards factual content. “Documentaries and factual always work on Māori Television,” says Ririnui. “Our audiences come to us because of those genres and to engage with the Māori perspective and increase their connection with the language. “We know that when people come to watch our content, they’re coming to learn something or because they feel like they want to connect to something. They don’t come just to watch nothing.” As a result, Ririnui says Māori Television pays more attention to a piece of content’s social impact than its

CHANNEL PROFILE: Māori Television

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Haka at Home

phenomenon ratings performance. The exec points to the recent documentary Shot Bro and its focus on men’s mental health in context of the severely disproportionately high rate of suicide among Māori men. In the film, Rob Mokaraka travelled around Aotearoa, telling the story of his attempted suicideby-cop in his one-man play. Funny, dark and real, it is available to view for free on-demand worldwide via the Māori Television website. “The industry counts on numbers and an immediate return. But Māori Television doesn’t do that – we look at the long burn. Society needs time to change perspective, so we play the small amount of content we have a lot. “We know that as society grows in its openness to and awareness of language and culture, we will get new audiences at different times who will connect to that same thing we had five years ago, and it’ll be new to them. We make stuff for when the world is ready. Sometimes we’ll make something and the world is not quite ready, but it’ll serve some,” says Ririnui. Challenging stereotypes and advocating for Māori stories is fundamental to the work of the broadcaster, and many of its programmes deal with social issues affecting the entire country. According to Ririnui, Māori Television is willing to tell stories that might be a “bit much” for other broadcasters in terms of confronting certain issues,

but the exec adds that content with heart that makes people feel good is always paramount, ruling out formats with too much jeopardy. Among its recent launches is 5 Minutes of Fame, an entertainment series hosted by Turanga Merito featuring wannabe singers and undiscovered talent from across NZ. “Things that work for Māori Television audiences are things that are competitive, with a great outcome for excellence, rather than an outcome that makes people look bad,” she says. “That’s really quite reflective of Māori as a people. We’re never really that individualistic. It’s always about where we’re from, our family and connections.” Consequently, although New Zealand has been among the countries to have handled the pandemic most successfully, 2020 was no less of a challenge to the broadcaster thanks to Covid-related disruption to the kind of communal cultural events Māori Television airs, particularly as it was due to go big on its 16th anniversary celebrations last year. u

The industry counts on numbers and an immediate return. But Māori Television doesn’t do that – we look at the long burn. Society needs time to change perspective. Lanita Ririnui Māori Television







FRIDA KAHLO Best French Fiction, La Rochelle









Best Comedy, Gullruten





CHANNEL PROFILE: Māori Television

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Local feature film Cousins

Māori Television’s most popular content tends to feature kapa haka, the world-famous tradition that combines song, dance and chanting, and its coverage of related competitions, specifically the bi-annual Te Matatini, in which performance groups from across the country compete on the national stage. Haka at Home, for example, showcases some of the best kapa haka from around Aotearoa, with groups performing on their marae (the courtyard of a Māori meeting house), sharing their history and stories through their songs. Meanwhile, among the content in the pipeline that Ririnui feels may be a “bit much” for other broadcasters is Māori Television’s three-part documentary about an ongoing land dispute in the south of Auckland. Ihumātao is the city’s oldest settlement and was illegally confiscated from Māori in 1863, after which sacred hills were quarried and 800-year-old burial sites were demolished. More recently, the area was designated as a special housing area. Without public consultation, plans were hatched to develop nearly 500 houses on the site. The Māori activist group Save Our Unique Landscape opposed the proposed housing development and has been occupying the site, with protests being staged there since 2016. Land rights are understandably a massive issue in New Zealand for Māori, on the back of the Treaty of Waitangi (the country’s founding document) and the subsequent loss of land through colonisation, explains Ririnui. Māori believe all living things are descended from the gods, embodied within certain mountains, rivers and lakes, while all things have a type of soul. As a result, Māori have strong spiritual ties to the land, and certain geographical features of the country are important anchors for Māori identity. The Ihumātao case raised concerns for the United Nations and is part of a global conversation around the rights of Indigenous people around the world, be it a sacred mountain in Hawaii or the Native American protests against the Dakota Access pipeline. “We want to share stories for future generations, because it really is about legacy and how we can contribute to raising more awareness and changing perspectives and attitudes,” says Ririnui. The exec says there is plenty of scope for cooperation between Māori Television and its fellow Indigenous broadcasters in countries around the world: “By default, the international Indigenous community connects and shares. We’re in the similar situation of being the smaller entity, dealing with bigger players and having to advocate a lot for the importance of our stories.” Ririnui draws a parallel between the issue of land sovereignty in New Zealand and the storytelling sovereignty that local creatives are increasingly demanding as appetite for their stories grows. “One of the biggest issues for Māori and their connection to land is the sovereignty of where they’re from, and that absolutely connects to the issue of story sovereignty. “We’re currently in a space where some stories are being retold and some need to be retold properly because they have been told historically by someone else, not just in film and television but even in print. It’s very degrading and not empowering,” says Ririnui.

One of the first things that comes up in any conversation about Māori Television is also the consistently high quality of the content it acquires from the international market. Ririnui attributes this to Deva Britow, the acquisitions manager at Māori Television who sources, negotiates for and secures local and international feature films, documentaries and series. Britow’s recent captures include the Oscar-winning film Parasite, highlighting the fact Māori Television is not squarely focused on Indigenous stories and airs a range of international content. Māori Television has also lined up a couple of local feature films: Cousins, based on Patricia Grace’s decade-spanning novel about the fate of three Māori cousins in post WWII Aotearoa; and The Mountain, the directorial debut of actor Rachel House, a frequent collaborator of Oscar-winning Kiwi actor and filmmaker Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows). Bringing in youth audiences is key for Māori Television, and there have been calls from some quarters of the Kiwi screen sector for it to go onlineonly to better reach the country’s young people. Ririnui dismisses such a proposal, however, owing to her belief that it would restrict the number of people who have access to its content, as much of its Māori audience is older and lives regionally. But while the exec emphasises that linear remains Māori Television’s strongest platform, she admits the fact young people are not really watching linear TV is an issue. However, a lot of the content they are watching online tends to be linear-type content, so Ririnui believes it’s worth sustaining the linear feed to keep the pipeline strong, while investing in an online platform so young people have access to it. “The funding model for online-only content is still slow and relatively small. So the key is to maintain linear to create the shows and diversify the platform. TV hasn’t died like they all thought it was going to do. It’s just become one of many options to deliver content.”

Documentary Shot Bro focuses on men’s mental health


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AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Scripted remakes

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

US drama Your Honor is based on Israeli show Kvodo (inset)

Room for remakes? A

s the globalisation of the TV industry continues customise the show so it’s perfectly aimed at the audience apace, finished-tape sales in the foreign-language for that territory. It also benefits the local prodco to make scripted sector are on the up. Audiences are the local version, as then they get more business.” Söderlund says a show is like a Christmas tree – the increasingly happy to watch shows with subtitles, overcoming what Parasite director Bong Joon-ho called decorations can be whatever you want, but the trunk “the one-inch-tall barrier” to embrace content from and the branches have to remain intact. As long as the core concept remains the same, he says local adaptations different cultures. From recent series like Israel’s Tehran, made by Keshet are nearly always beneficial to a format’s success. “It’s Studios for Apple TV+ and Kan, to older dramas like very suitable for a local producer to take care of the Korean series Boys Over Flowers that have been given new ‘decorations,’ as it were. If a local company is making the life on Netflix, non-English-language content is enjoying show more relatable, broadcasters are more likely to pick it up. They’re used to having things readymade for them,” success on global streamers. he notes. Furthermore, the likes of Netflix and South Korea is also a hot export Amazon are setting up production hubs Local remakes market for both original dramas and in territories such as Spain and Mexico are always scripted formats. While mainly famous in order to develop local content for the stronger than for its formats, cable network CJ ENM global market. With these developments, – parent company of Eccho Rights – what room is there for selling the IP for imported readymade recently unveiled plans to invest more local production by a foreign channel or shows because you than US$4.5bn in content development platform, and where do companies tied can customise the and production over the next five years to the scripted format business model go show so it’s perfectly in a bid to expand its global presence – from here? aimed at the and exports of scripted formats will be a One of the biggest exporters of scripted part of that. content over the last 10 years has been audience “Selling IP is important to widening Scandinavia. Sweden-based distributor for that our expansion and reputation,” says CJ Eccho Rights, for example, has built its territory. ENM head of sales Diane Min. “Local business on acquiring foreign shows to adaptations then come in when selling either sell as finished tape or remake Nicola IP is difficult due to cultural differences. around the world with local producers. Söderlund Our show Grandpas Over Flowers, Managing partner Nicola Söderlund Eccho Rights which has been sold in 10 territories, says that while his company does both, a remake is usually preferable. “Over the past year, foreign helped us get into new areas like Israel and Poland, which drama series have become increasingly more accepted were previously hard to reach.” Local adaptations, then, can improve a show’s and it now doesn’t matter where a show comes from as commercial chances as well as its ability to resonate long as it’s a good story,” Söderlund says. “However, some good stories aren’t suitable because of locally, and allow companies to crack new markets. how they’ve been done locally, so it makes a lot more sense Another territory with a long history of scripted format to remake the show. Local remakes are always stronger sales is Israel, with one recent example being the Bryan than imported readymade shows anyway, because you can Cranston-starring drama series Your Honor on u

Viewers are becoming increasingly accepting of foreign-language content – but where does this leave the scripted formats business? By Oli Hammett


AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Scripted remakes

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Showtime, adapted from Israeli series Kvodo. Israeli producer and distributor Keshet International (KI), part of Keshet Media Group, has also had international success with its scripted formats. Drama series The Beauty & The Baker was shown in Israel in 2013 and sold to Amazon Prime Video before being adapted locally by US network ABC, where it aired last year. Now, the US series has been added to global streaming platform Netflix. KI’s senior VP of distribution and new business Kelly Wright says this dual sales method – with the original selling alongside the remake – is not uncommon for scripted content. “We want to remake formats even if that original has sold all around the world. With The Beauty & The Baker, those buyers saw a strong story that their audience will watch on their platform, regardless of what other versions their competitors have. Some streamers are different – if they’re investing millions into a show, they don’t want to see the original in the same market. We have some titles being adapted by Apple TV+ like Suspicion, which is a remake of our series False Flag. You won’t see that being remade anywhere else, as Apple has exclusivity.” According to Wright, SVoD platforms like Apple TV+ are changing the adaptations market. When a new platform launches and needs guaranteed hit shows, it naturally looks around at formats that have been global successes. But selling finished tape is not the same as selling the format. A deal for the latter often means a distributor can sell to other buyers, and Wright argues that the more local versions of a show, the more valuable it is to the next company that wants to adapt it. Wright believes adaptations are here to stay in one form or another. Remaking a format, she says, can shorten the whole production process by years. Nonetheless, she feels that the number of adaptations may go down as vertical integration among TV buyers means fewer shows are sold between companies and IP remains in-house. KI has been selling to foreign territories for years, and VP of sales Rose Hughes says that as the world becomes more open, there’s no reason that adaptations and finished-tape deals can’t coexist. “Remakes are still incredibly important to local regions,” she says. “There’s a reason Netflix is investing in regional offices – there’s still an appetite for local IP. Our show Yellow Peppers was adapted into The A Word for the BBC, and now the original and the UK version are on different platforms in the Netherlands. There’s definitely a world where you can have both versions in the same territory.” Hughes predicts that the growth in local SVoD platforms will lead to a rise in opportunities for scripted adaptations, while viewers will only become more accepting of foreign content. Elsewhere in scripted content, the old adage that ‘comedy doesn’t travel’ may be becoming less true, as territories like Norway find a broader audience for their brand of humour thanks to international streamers, with Netflix picking up Norsemen, for example. Meanwhile, there has been a rich vein of UK comedy being adapted in the US for several years now, the best example being

This Country has been adapted for Fox in the US as Welcome to Flatch

A tape sale and a reformat can often amplify each other with the show’s fans, and adaptations are also great for attracting stellar talent. Angie Stephenson BBC Studios

ABC’s version of The Baker & The Beauty

The Office, which succeeded where many others have crashed and burned (see the attempted remakes of The Inbetweeners, Peep Show, Skins, Gavin & Stacey, The IT Crowd and many more). Angie Stephenson, senior VP of scripted development at the LA-based production arm of BBC Studios, is currently working on the adaptation of hit BBC3 comedy This Country for US network Fox as Welcome to Flatch. She says while comedy may be becoming more universal, certain tweaks to UK originals are often necessary, highlighting why scripted adaptations, even between countries that share a common language, will always appeal in a riskaverse industry. “In The Office, the Michael Scott character was made to be more well-meaning than David Brent as UK audiences are more tolerant of bad characters. This is very common when adapting shows for the US, as it makes the show more appealing to our audience. With all reformats, the challenge is not to repeat what’s been done before, but to find ways the show can connect with new audiences,” Stephenson says. Moreover, in a streaming world, there’s room for both the original and the remake to co-exist, meaning audiences no longer have to choose between one or the other. As Stephenson says: “A tape sale and a reformat can often amplify each other with the show’s fans, and adaptations are also great for attracting stellar talent.”




Channel21 International | Summer 2021

Christmas at the Ranch


ashvilleand LA-based writer, producer and director Christin Baker is well known for making films aimed at the lesbian and queer communities. Having launched LGBTQ+ SVoD platform Tello Films in 2009, she has now formed her own production company, A Baker Production, which aims to specialise in bigger-name projects across a wider variety of genres. “I wanted to rebrand myself as a filmmaker,” Baker says when asked about her plans for her new prodco. “I’m best-known for queer women films, most of which have been holiday romcoms under the Tello Films banner, but there’s other stories I would like to tell.” While A Baker Production will still produce LGBTQ+-themed content, Baker also intends to focus on two other genres: horror and non-mainstream stories featuring underrepresented voices. For the latter category, the prodco is working on feature film Preexisting Condition, which looks at the US healthcare system and the people forced to turn to crowdfunding in order to raise the necessary funds for treatment. If that doesn’t sound scary enough, in the horror space, A Baker Production is working on werewolf movie She Wolf and in the LGBTQ+ category the prodco is pursuing more queer holiday romcoms, including upcoming special Christmas at the Ranch. Other projects in A Baker Production’s pipeline include feature-length doc A League of Our Own, which celebrates the 30-year legacy of the International Women’s Flag Football Association, and period film Storyville, which is set in the late 19th/early 20th centuries in New Orleans – the only place in the US where prostitution was legal and women were able to make their own money. According to Baker, Amazon Prime Video is “taking a look” at La Vita Eterna, a film currently in development about a group of people on a food and wine tour in Italy as they navigate the boundaries of love, forgiveness, understanding and hope. Baker sees Amazon as an ideal partner for her projects and is pitching to both SVoD platforms and linear networks. She also hopes to see some of her productions released in the cinema.

Baker’s mix

Filmmaker Christin Baker talks about her fledgling prodco’s new slate of projects featuring underrepresented voices. By Karolina Kaminska “We pitch a lot to [cablenets] Hallmark and Lifetime and I think Amazon is a really wonderful landing spot for some of our projects. So it’s a mix of SVoDs and classic networks that we’re going out to. It depends on the project. I believe strongly, too, in a theatrical release. Theatre is going to come back with a vengeance [after the Covid-19 pandemic] because we’ve all learnt that while it’s great to be able to turn on the television and watch a show, there’s a collective experience that we’ve missed in not being able to go to the theatres. So I would also really like to do a small theatrical run with projects where it makes sense,” she says. While Tello Films would be a suitable home for many of A Baker Production’s projects, Baker hopes they will land on a wide range of platforms and channels around the world in order to increase awareness around them. Eventually, they can then live permanently on Tello Films. “We have always looked at Tello

Films as a final home for A Baker Production projects. Tello Films is not a mainstream site, it’s a very niche site, and while that’s wonderful, it’s also very limiting. The more we can get on mainstream sites, the more our audience can find us and experience our storytelling, so it’s critical we are on those broadcast networks and larger SVoD platforms so more people can find us. If we go down the theatrical route, we’ll do the windowing and then it will probably end up on Tello,” the exec says. “In countries where we don’t have a distribution deal, the projects can live on Tello until we get deals in those countries. We want to be in as many countries as possible. One of the things I love about the SVoDs is the ability to open productions up into markets that channels such as Hallmark and Lifetime would not necessarily be in, so we definitely want to be in international markets as well.”

The more we can get on mainstream sites, the more our audience can find us and experience our storytelling, so it’s critical we are on those broadcast networks and larger SVoD platforms. Christin Baker

A Baker Production



Regional accents W

hilst international distribution is a Gráinne McGuinness, measure of the ultimate success creative director at of a project, many of Paper Owl’s Northern Irish indie projects drew critical acclaim early on, thanks Paper Owl Films, in large part to the support and risk-taking of vouches for regional regional broadcasters. Recently, our slate of programmes has broadcasters as drivers of grown exponentially, in terms of both scale projects with diversity and and global reach. But we would never have inclusion at their core. grown without the support of regional Celtic broadcasters such as RTÉjr, TG4 and BBC Northern Ireland. Their remit is the same Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language as ours – to ensure all children can see Broadcast Fund and The Screen Fund. The themselves reflected on screen in a way that show premiered in Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic and with English subtitles on UK is true to who they are. Regional broadcasters reflect the audiences broadcasters ITV’s CiTV, Channel 4’s All4 and of their regions and investing in regional Channel 5’s my5. The values of all of the funders really aligned shows boosts diversity and inclusion. In kids’ TV especially, it’s so important for audiences on Sol, as each one has a public service remit. to see people like themselves on screen, to Thanks to its initial success, the film is now feel represented and to enjoy content in their being distributed internationally by Aardman Animations. So why do regional shows hold first language. Storytelling is in the DNA of many cultures, international and commercial appeal? It’s simple. When the world has so many but particularly the shared Celtic regions of this part of Europe. Collaborating with the problems, it can be a relief to focus on deeper stories – stories that UK’s Celtic broadcasters Teams of regional appeal to the heart and helps us create beautiful, soul of what it means to be content-rich stories that writers who human. Teams of regional resonate with young collaborate with writers who collaborate audiences at home. local producers are with local producers are And luckily for us, Celtic able to draw on their content is also popular with able to draw on their collective library of cultural national and international collective library of reference to craft storylines audiences. Why wouldn’t cultural reference to that are authentic and it be? Our storytelling craft storylines that are tradition is ancient and authentic and impactful. impactful. Indigenous shows also goes right to the heart of often attract financial human experience. Regional support also helps local talent support from organisations such as the BFI’s flourish. There’s a common misconception that Young Audience Content Fund and Northern all creative talent is fostered in big cities. But Ireland Screen. The support of these funders creating projects commissioned by regional is vital to facilitate the budgets required for broadcasters enables us to grow talent globally impactful production values. Passionate about audience inclusion and locally, allowing people to have successful – and potentially international – careers whilst purpose-driven content, these organisations working in the regions and telling stories about give infant projects the best start and room our own culture. Who wouldn’t want to live to develop over time. They are public service in a region where there are forests and seas content at their core – making sure that there and fresh air and the space to expand your is fun, funny, engaging content being produced for younger audiences with something creativity? A fantastic example of a project that was nutritious at their heart. My one piece of advice for making a truly believed in by regional broadcasters was our recent production Sol. Released on the commercially successful regional series is Winter Solstice last year, the film was about to know and consider your audience. At the a little boy going through his grieving journey same time, root your storylines in real human experiences that translate. After all, we are all following the death of his grandmother. Woven with strands of ancient Celtic wisdom, human. Now is a good time to go back to old stories. Sol uses the universal appeal of magic and mystique to tap into children’s imaginations With the support of regional partners, and whilst providing subtle educational messages funds that have public service broadcasting at the heart, there is the chance to re-teach these around grief. The project was supported collaboratively valuable lessons to new audiences. Regional doesn’t make you ‘small.’ Regional by Celtic-language broadcasters and funded by the BFI’s Young Audiences Content Fund, gives you a unique voice.

Channel21 International | Summer 2021

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