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Drama crisis for Canadian distributors

The international market for TV drama and telefilms has never been tougher, according to two of Canada's leading international distributors.

Ted Riley, president of distribution at Alliance Atlantis, said the slump in demand for new drama was likely to last another two or three years. {It’s a dark zone right now and it’s a case of fasten your seatbelts,{ he told the inTELEgence conference in London yesterday. {It’s never been more difficult than it is right now for dramatic series.{

He said that in response to the tough times, Alliance Atlantis has steered its drama strategy away from US and Canadian presales towards combining Canadian tax breaks schemes with international coproduction, particularly with European partners.

The move towards Europe that started with AAC's miniseries Joan of Arc and Nuremburg continues with a new CBS 2×120' miniseries about the early life of Adolf Hitler, which Riley said begins shooting next month in Czech Republic.

{If we can find European partners, we'll carry on with drama and MoWs. If we can't, we won't,{ stated Riley, illustrating just how bad the drama scene is in Canada today. {We want to use a much of other people's money as we can, not our own. We're very risk-averse right now.{

Riley said Alliance’s efforts to diversify into children’s and factual programming reflected {how tough drama is at the moment in terms of series and TV movies.{ AAC Kids and AAC Fact both launched in 2001.

Greg Phillips, president of rival Canadian distributor Fireworks International, added that drama producers were facing a challenge from the rise of reality TV, which local broadcasters and producers could make cheaply for themselves based on formats which had already been hits elsewhere.

European producers are also becoming better at producing their own drama. {We're now at the end of the industrialisation process for drama,{ said Phillips.

The challenge for drama makers, he said, was to offer overseas broadcasters {something they cannot do for themselves. We have to find a new twist on the classic hospital or detective drama, and do them awfully well. That’s the challenge and it’s an exciting one.{

Phillips said there was currently a lot of interest internationally in paranormal programming. Riley added a lot of broadcasters were looking for the {new Buffy.{

Sci-fi and fantasy, both execs agreed, were relatively safe bets, since there were {fewer culturally specific references{ in outer space. Consequently, Fireworks' drama output includes plenty of sci-fi like Andromeda and Mutant X, but – like Alliance – the company has recently diversified into kids and factual.

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