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Script Comp

PERSPECTIVE

More drama please

By Jeremy Fox 09-08-2017

Did you watch Line of Duty? Broadchurch? Big Little Lies? You had to wait a week to watch each episode. How quaint. How 2012.

In just five years, thanks to Netflix, we are now watching television in a completely different way. Bingeing, box sets, stacking – whatever you call it, we watch more and more high-quality drama.

Does that mean weekly viewing is going to be history? No. We seem to be happy to watch the soaps daily and comedy drama weekly. Doc Martin will be back in the autumn and we’ll all be watching that weekly. Well, DRG will be out selling it internationally, but the audience will be happy viewing the old-fashioned way.

It’s crime drama that’s frustrating to watch weekly. I wanted to know whodunit in Broadchurch and if shedunit in Line of Duty. And I wanted to know whatdunit in Big Little Lies – especially the last one, as I subscribe to Sky Atlantic here in the UK to get the HBO series, and if I’m paying, I want it all and I want it now.

DRG distributes Doc Martin

That’s the difference between viewers and subscribers. As a viewer, I’ll live with the schedule as I’m used to it. But as a subscriber, I want value for money and, to be fair, I get that with Netflix. With Amazon, I get the shows plus the added bonus of next-day delivery!

So, if subscribers are watching in a new way, then we professionals have to deliver in a new way. That’s why I’m now working with Sir Howard Stringer (ex-CBS and Sony) and Quinn Taylor (ex-ABC and NBC) to create Atrium TV. Our idea is to deliver these big new dramas to the regional OTTs and telcos in a different and cost-effective way.

Atrium TV is a new concept, a commissioning club, and our team acts like club managers – although more Groucho than Soho House. We’ll find the concepts, we’ll present them to the members, the producers will produce but, in the end, it’s the subscriber who will speak last.

The big question is, is there too much drama?

John Landgraf

Each year, John Landgraf, CEO of FX, gives us the number of TV series coming out of the US – potentially 500 in 2017. He thinks the bubble has to burst. But each trip I take to the US, I sit with Chris Rice of WME and we add up the number of US buyers of scripted material – 77 in 2017, up from seven just seven years ago.

Wearing my DRG distribution hat, the bigger problem is finding international buyers. Take the UK. The BBC will buy no US series, ITV will buy one, Channel 4 about half a dozen and Sky has its HBO output deal. That doesn’t add up to 500, which means the likes of Channel 5 and UKTV have an incredible choice at the various TV markets.

And yet they keep on coming. There have been several announcements in Channel 21 of another fund or another group making high-end drama. Sure, there is enough money out there to make the shows, but I come from a distribution background, so I always ask if it will sell.

We, in our perverse way, decided to do it backwards. We talk to the new players, the regional streaming services and telcos, to find out what they want. We can look at their data – something you can’t do with Netflix or Amazon (understandably) – and see what their subscribers are watching. That doesn’t mean you make another superhero series or fantasy show, but it does inform us and it’s that information we can pass on to the creative community.

So, what works for the streamers? Budgets may keep on rising but the only thing to put first is quality.

HBO’s dark comedy Big Little Lies

Then there are the easy bits. No recaps please, we don’t have to wait another week and forget what happened before. No commercial breaks. Longer running times. A combination of event series for promotional reasons, yet returning series to build a subscriber base and avoid churn. Mind you, if you can kill off Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin Cartel, and get two more seasons of Narcos then everything is returnable. But forget any shower/dream sequences please.

Now the tough bits: how many episodes? Eight, 10? And what’s the difference between the requirements of the majors and the regional OTTs and telcos? Regional stories, certainly, but streaming services like Viaplay in the Nordics can do that themselves with series like Swedish Dicks and Veni Vidi Vici (OK, distributed by DRG).

My view is simple: good storytelling on worldly subjects. And worldly and international are different. Put three nationalities into a series and you might get an international series but it might not be any good. It’s got be something that everyone can watch wherever they are in the world and when they’ve watched it, they are satisfied they got value for their subscription.

In the end, think cinema and, if in doubt, remember the words of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid writer William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire business knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess, and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

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today's correspondent

Jeremy Fox Executive chairman DRG

Jeremy founded DRG in 2007 and was responsible for the acquisition of Portman Films, Zeal and Channel 4 International. Through acquisitions and organic growth, DRG has become one of the leading TV distribution operations. Jeremy has created, written, developed, produced and distributed some of the most iconic TV brands.

He has worked in all genres of the business: news and documentary; reality and gameshows; comedy and drama. He has also worked as a broadcaster, an independent producer and a distributor in the UK, US and Australia.