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PERSPECTIVE

In the driving seat

By Richard Middleton 05-04-2017

Analogies to describe Netflix’s effect on the TV industry are many and varied but few have been quite as colourful as that from TF1’s president here in Cannes this week.

“These are new kinds of deals,” Gilles Pélisson said of the French commercial broadcaster’s agreement for the streamer’s first French original, Marseille, during his keynote last night.

“We have mixed feelings. And as one of my Harvard professors used to say, you have mixed feelings when you see your mother-in-law driving your brand new Ferrari over a cliff.”

For those not tracking the intricacies of the French television market, the deal saw TF1 broadcast the first two episodes of the first season in primetime in sync with its launch on Netflix, effectively acting as a promoter for the streaming service.

Gilles Pélisson at MipTV this week

Clearly, while Pélisson might only have been in TF1’s top job for little more than a year, he’s already keenly aware of the SVoD giant’s influence and potential effect. And it seems he’s not altogether happy with where he finds himself in the pecking order.

And it wasn’t a sedate sedan that went careering into oblivion, it was a speedy Ferrari. The pace of change is coming thick and fast for broadcasters and producers, and while some are still sticking to the line that global SVoDers are only good for business, others are beginning to raise their concerns.

Last year, former Fox exec Sharon Tal Yguado – who has since joined Amazon – was among those to argue that the global rights model employed by Netflix had caused “conflict” in the industry. Here in Cannes a few months later, leading production execs aired their worries.

Jimmy Desmarais, co-MD at Eden and Midnight Sun producer Atlantique Productions, said the rights model was “a threat to the independence of producers” and could affect development as prodcos lost back-end revenues in return for that big bite upfront.

Losing that long-term “treasure,” as Desmarais neatly put it, could cause real issues for producers and see them forced to adopt the ‘producer for hire’ label once again.

Benoît Magimel (left) and Gérard Depardieu in Marseille

Kelly Wright, head of Latin America and executive advisor for Asia-Pacific at Keshet International, was another to question the long-term effect of SVoD “monopolising content” but she added that wriggle room was emerging.

Rights for Netflix’s recently ordered US remake of teen drama The Greenhouse Academy will return to Keshet after just two years, perhaps suggesting that producer blowback is beginning to be felt further up the chain. Amazon Studios chief Roy Price also told C21 he was “flexible” on the global rights issue.

Jimmy Desmarais

And that’s because there is now an increasing number of alternatives for finance-hungry producers with access to top talent or scripts. Access Entertainment’s Benchmark Television is offering Billy big bucks for straight-to-series shows, institutional investors – and their seriously deep pockets – are being opened up by Stone Story Media, and now there’s Atrium TV.

Launched by former Sony chairman Sir Howard Stringer, Scandi broadcaster MTG and its UK distributor DRG, the Atrium “commissioning club” will target US$5m-per-hour drama series.

DRG CEO Jeremy Fox told C21 that 10 shows of between six and eight hours long are planned over the next five years (two a year, roughly) – and some rather rudimentary, back-of-the-serviette calculations suggest that means there will be around US$400m up for grabs for those with the right shows. Almost half a billion bucks.

The aim of the business is to create high-profile drama content for regional OTT players and telcos, with DRG selling programmes where no other distribution partner is onboard.

Jeremy Fox

“Atrium helps these new platforms compete with broadcasters and global SVoD players,” said Stringer, “offering a creative solution for them to offer big-budget dramas to their subscribers.”

Fox added that his company had watched the “rapid expansion” of global streaming services and the commissioning club had emerged as a “great way for local players to compete in their own markets” by sharing “the cost of developing and producing high-profile series. That’s the key aim of Atrium.”

It also sounds remarkably like bridge-building – something that could keep Pélisson’s Ferrari on the road for a few more years yet.

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today's correspondent

Richard Middleton Senior reporter C21 Media

Richard Middleton is a senior reporter at C21Media. Based in London, he covers the global TV industry for C21Media.net, C21 International, C21Kids and Drama Quarterly.

Before joining the company in 2013 he worked as a reporter and sub editor for BBC Online and has freelanced for publishers around the world including Trinity Mirror, Fairfax Media, Reed Business, DMG Media and The Independent.