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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Sour cherries

By Nico Franks 24-05-2017

Whether it’s being booed at the Cannes Film Festival or cursed by execs for inflating the cost of original drama, Netflix has become public enemy number one in certain parts of the film and TV industry.

It’s something that is becoming increasingly evident here at the LA Screenings, where in a bygone era acquisition execs from TV channels around the world would go from studio to studio to watch the new shows they would soon be receiving as a result of their output deals.

However, the latter are becoming as common as a pedestrian on a Beverley Hills sidewalk. Numerous execs here in LA now talk about it being the final year of certain deals that they have no intention of renewing. Others turned their backs on them long ago and instead opt to cherry-pick shows from the studios.

Designated Survivor was picked up by Netflix outside North America

However, the ‘Red Devil,’ as some execs have taken to calling Netflix, has an insatiable appetite for product and will no doubt have already wrapped up international rights to some of the most buzzworthy shows being screened here.

Last year, the company did global deals, excluding North America, with Entertainment One for Designated Survivor and CBS Studios International for Star Trek: Discovery. Netflix, no doubt, paid vast sums for the privilege, but traditional broadcasters still believe the streamer is getting a far better deal than they are when it comes to acquiring US shows.

Acquisitions bosses at TV channels are stuck between a rock and a hard place – they either pay over the odds for linear rights to US shows that viewers end up binge-watching on Netflix, or they fight tooth and nail for stacking rights to a show that might end up getting cancelled after one season. Many are instead opting to focus on local drama instead, claiming it to be more popular than US fare.

Nevertheless, securing stacking rights means broadcasters can host multiple episodes of a US acquisition on their catch-up service, which has been proven to help drive linear viewing. And buyers here in LA are stepping up their pursuit of these rights, with some even acquiring shows and forgoing the linear option altogether.

This is what TV2 in Denmark did last year with American Gothic, which was ultimately cancelled by CBS after 13 episodes but remains available to TV2 Play customers.

Netflix said in 2013 that it “wanted to become HBO before HBO becomes us.” Now, traditional broadcasters have joined the race and are putting their foot down if distributors try to get in their way. Some European broadcasters have said they simply won’t do a deal if they can’t get the catch-up rights they want, given that US shows no longer hold the sway they once did with audiences on linear TV.

One such broadcaster, RTL in Germany, is going one step further and co-commissioning its own US shows with TF1 in France and NBCUniversal as a way to create shows that it has more control over. The first of these, Gone, is being screened to buyers here in LA.

Murder-mystery American Gothic was cancelled by CBS

A US broadcaster for the crime procedural hasn’t yet been announced, although the trend towards vertical integration suggests that it will be NBC or one of its cable sisters. However, that may not be the case, and who knows, it could end up being acquired globally by Netflix. Excluding Germany and France, of course.

At the same time, Netflix is planning to triple the amount of content it commissions outside the US and increase the number of countries in which its service is localised, while Amazon in the UK is set to offer live streaming of third-party linear networks from broadcasters including Discovery and ITV via its Prime service.

It is a confusing time for traditional broadcasters. In some markets, their fastest growing competitor is also a potentially lucrative partner, as is the case with the BBC and Netflix, which are working together on a flurry of high-end TV series. It is yet another sign of the topsy-turvy times we are living in, where the rise in demand for content is throwing up ever more complex and exciting business deals.

Meanwhile, if cherry-picking buyers here in LA continue to feel like they are being cut a raw deal compared to the global streamers, they might start to lose their appetite for cherries altogether.

today's correspondent

Nico Franks Editor of Channel21 International & senior reporter C21Media

Nico writes daily news, features and perspective pieces for C21Media, the UK-based provider of breaking news and industry analysis to the international entertainment community. Prior to becoming editor of Channel21 International magazine in 2021 he was editor of C21Kids magazine. He is also part of the team that organises and moderates C21's award-winning conference Content London. He joined C21 in 2012 following stints writing for the BBC online and music magazine Clash.

Follow Nico on Twitter, @NicoFranks

Email Nico Franks here