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Silverman warns against TV’s franchise focus: ‘We can’t become the movie business’

The SeriesFest State of the Industry panel (left to right): Ben Silverman, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland (SAG-AFTRA), Mark Linsey, Talitha Watkins and moderator Adam Chitwood

SERIESFEST: Propagate co-CEO Ben Silverman has warned that an over-reliance on building television franchises is having a detrimental impact on the industry and will not necessarily generate the financial returns of betting on new IP.

“We can’t become the movie business. The reason we’ve been in the golden age of television is because we’ve been doing so much unbelievable, original, inclusive and creative work, and we’re not just doing a sequel every single weekend,” he said at SeriesFest in Denver.

Many of the top Hollywood studios have vowed to focus on franchises as they look for safer bets after hitting economic speed bumps over the past 18 months.

Silverman, speaking during SeriesFest’s State of the Industry session yesterday, pointed to Paramount Global’s move to develop and greenlight multiple spin-offs of popular series Yellowstone and Billions.

“You pay a massive premium to enter something that you’re making the fifth derivative on, versus the lower risk on their end of taking the bet to create it.”

Silverman said television “existed to create stars” in the past, but that has become more difficult as US studios lean into building TV franchises around existing properties.

“It’s one of the reasons foreign shows and shows with young adults are playing so well, because we haven’t seen the performers before, so there’s an authentic honesty in their performances to us.”

Mark Linsey, president of scripted at BBC Studios, concurred with Silverman, saying he worried that buyers would “revert back to established IP” and shift their spend to spin-offs and franchise extensions that “lose the sense of risk-taking, new ideas, new stories and new creativity.”

On the topic of movie stars increasingly landing roles on splashy streaming shows, Talitha Watkins, president of ColorCreative, said it was a concerning and frustrating trend, as large portions of the budget are sucked up by the star’s salary.

“That frustrates me, especially right now when we’re in a strike, because you know a movie star is not going to work for a TV show without that budget being incredibly rich – and it’s not rolling down.”

On the writers’ strike, Silverman, who is former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, said he sees both sides of the argument.

“The biggest issue with the strike right now is that both sides have a really strong point of view, because the streamers are losing money, their stock prices have been killed, the decision to migrate into all things within your ecosystem doesn’t work when there’s a downward moment,” he said.

“And on the other side, the writers have been so squeezed, as have the actors and everyone else in the middle, that it is untenable as a career,” Silverman added.

“Therefore, the ecosystem will drown and die or shift overseas, as it already has [started to], whether it’s Canada, Great Britain, Colombia, Mexico or Spain. There’s more and more content that can feed in, that is not unionised or regulated in any way [by the WGA].

“That is going to grow in greater volume as the strike enters a period where it starts to reflect on the screen. Right now, it’s so early… but it will really be damaging in the long-term if it goes to 100, 200, 300 days.”

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