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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Strength in numbers

By Ben Barrett 19-10-2017

Arriving back home to a reassuringly grey (thankfully no longer red) London sky after three days of perfect sunshine in Cannes, it’s always a good time to take a step back and try and digest what was new at the market. And think about how that may impact not just on our business, but the wider industry in the months and years to come.

Much of the initial buzz at this year’s Mipcom was about the ever-increasing presence of major digital players, with keynotes from both Facebook and Snap in a year when many of the industry’s biggest digital and tech companies have declared plans for significant investment in content creation.

It seems the days of the pure platform are coming to a close as Facebook used the market to reveal a number of original shows for its new Watch platform, while Snapchat announced a partnership with NBCUniversal to create scripted content for the platform. Announcements such as these, alongside Apple’s plan to invest US$1bn in content in 2018 are signalling a new era of further competition for viewers.

What has been clear for some time is that with the continued growth of these platforms, in addition to the huge impact of SVoD players in recent years, many now believe the increasing strain on traditional TV viewership is irreversible. This has inevitably led, in turn, to great pressure on budgets and traditional TV funding models – and it was this that was very much in the spotlight this week in Cannes.

Again, this trend is nothing new, but as it seemingly becomes the new normal, we are, unsurprisingly, seeing many knock-on effects, such as the number of new joint ventures and partnerships aimed at securing strength in numbers. We are truly in the era of collaboration and coproduction in the scripted world and are now seeing a number of channels work to streamline the coproduction process through partnerships, whose primary aim is to allow them to compete financially.

Whether it was the recent deals between HBO and Sky, the fact Channel 4 announced it was heading to Mipcom to seek European copro partners for its own projects or the new scripted funds that have arrived in recent months, the level of collaboration and the range of players, models and deal structures are unprecedented.

But this is no longer happening just in the world of big-budget scripted; these models are also now developing in the non-scripted world. As a funding specialist, Drive has been bringing together multiple partners for some time, and while this hasn’t been an industry norm, it has certainly been on the increase in recent years. And Mipcom saw the announcement of some interesting new ventures aimed at overcoming today’s funding realities.

The new 6/26 venture from Electus aims to bring together a group of four international channels – Nine Network in Australia, France’s TF1, Nito in Germany and Nordics-based Modern Times Group – as a coalition that will equally co-fund six-part series that can then be ordered to 26 episodes.

It is certainly an ambitious project – as satisfying the needs of four channel partners on a single project always is – but it is a great example of how producers, broadcasters and distributors are having to think outside the box to secure content at affordable prices. However, it also comes at a time when many international channels seem to be giving out the message that local content is what is working best for them. So it will be interesting to see how this venture fares.

Other non-scripted trends are the growing number of crime projects on the market, while many buyers also seem to be very focused on the ‘form’ of projects, and specifically the new storytelling techniques that can be used to deliver these.

It feels like, more than ever, projects have to stand out from the crowd to have any chance of securing backing. As one producer said to me: “Buyers only want shows that people are going to talk about,” echoing National Geographic CEO Courtney Monroe’s statement: “You can’t break through in today’s market without being both distinctive and exceptional.”

While she was clearly referring to her channel business, it seems these rules are the new normal that also apply to producers and distributors.

today's correspondent

Ben Barrett Joint MD Drive

Ben Barrett launched Drive, the specialist pre-sales and coproduction agency, in partnership with Lilla Hurst in 2013. They then went on to launch the distribution arm of the company in 2016. The firm specialises in raising production finance from international channels.

Barrett started his TV career at sports and adventure distributor Extreme International, where he became MD in 2000, and co-founded the Extreme Sports Channel. Upon the sale of the business, he joined Zig Zag Productions as head of distribution and commercial ventures and became commercial director in 2008. Barrett left Zig Zag in 2010 and spent three years consulting for Raw TV and other indie clients before launching Drive.