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Programming Profile

ITV Studios offers production freeze-beating slate


Ruth Berry talks to C21 about adapting to the new world and the breadth of finished drama ready to buy from ITV Studios.


Ruth Berry, ITV Studios

ITV Studios’ (ITVS) April C21 Digital Screening comprises a slate of shows that are finished and available to buy – specifically aimed at clients who have been affected by the production freeze caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


With a library of over 46,000 hours of programming available on, ITVS has a wealth of content on offer, including both striking new dramas and those which have stood the test of time to become iconic British classics. Luckily, production of many of the company’s new titles was wrapped before the coronavirus outbreak took hold, meaning they are still expected to be released as planned.


“These are undoubtedly unprecedented times and not easy to prepare for or an environment that we anticipated working in,” says Ruth Berry, MD, Global Distribution at ITVS.


“We are so fortunate to have an incredible depth and breadth of a library with over 46,000 hours of programming and we’re also really fortunate that many of our new dramas that we were expecting this year are already well on the way to becoming available. So quite a few of the titles that we discussed at our drama festival in mid-February are still delivering as expected and we’re out selling them now.”


ITVS has divided the 15 shows in its C21Screenings playlist into three categories: Tentpole, European Drama and Classics.



The Tentpole category is made up of “brand new premiere titles” that would “fit well” in broadcasters’ primetime schedules, according to Berry, and comprises Honour (Hera Pictures for ITV), The Singapore Grip (ITVS-owned Mammoth Screen for ITV), Noughts & Crosses (Mammoth Screen for BBC One), Little Birds (Warp Films for Sky Atlantic) and Bodyguard (ITVS-owned World Productions for BBC1 and Netflix).


According to Berry, these types of primetime series are “really important for people who need a big show to splash into their schedule as sporting events and some scheduled dramas are put on hold.”


Produced for the BBC and airing on Netflix outside the UK, Bodyguard was a huge hit around the world when it launched in 2018.



“We all know the phenomenal ratings success that Bodyguard was in the UK,” Berry says. “The performance for that has been outstanding and the linear rights are available imminently.”


Berry is also particularly enthusiastic about Noughts + Crosses, which is based on Malorie Blackman’s novel of the same name and is currently airing on BBC One. The story follows two young lovers living in an alternate world divided by race, where the black members of society make up the ruling class and the white people the underclass.


“Noughts + Crosses is doing really well on the BBC at the moment and indexing extremely highly with a younger demographic and BAME audiences, which I think is absolutely fantastic,” Berry says, pointing out that the show is “well above” the slot average on BBC1 for the 16- 34 age group, with viewership from BAME audiences about 20% above average. All in all, Noughts + Crosses is generating around 3.5 to four million viewers every Thursday night.


The Singapore Grip
The Singapore Grip

“We’re really proud to have something so different and with a strong appeal to audiences that many people find hard to reach. It is a key demographic that many of our buyers want to target,” Berry adds. The show has already been sold to networks including HBO Europe, BBC First Australia, M-Net in Africa, Russia’s More TV, TVNZ in New Zealand and BBC First across Benelux.


Most of the Tentpole shows would be suitable for a range of platforms, from pubcasters to streaming services, according to Berry. “Something like The Singapore Grip, which is a brilliant period costume drama, could play across public service broadcasters, commercial broadcasters, pay television and streamers. It’s definitely a multi-platform show that is generating interest from all types of buyers,” the exec says.


Noughts + Crosses
Noughts + Crosses

“Noughts + Crosses, as I’ve mentioned, has broad appeal to free-to-air broadcasters, streamers and various others because of the demographic. Bodyguard has been through its streaming window and is now available in the linear space, so that will appeal to a very broad commercial or public service broadcaster.”


A show like Little Birds, however, which is inspired by the erotic short stories created by Anaïs Nin, might not necessarily catch the eye of a traditional pubcaster due to its “edgier and racier” nature, Berry notes.


“Little Birds looks and feels much edgier and racier than a free-to-air public service broadcaster would air, so there’s a clearer set of buyers for that show, which will sit in pay TV or streaming platforms,” she says.


Voiceless (Bella Da Morire)
Voiceless (Bella Da Morire)

“There’s a lot of breadth in there. We’re hoping that we can solve the scheduling challenge for quite a broad range of our partners and client base.”


The European Drama category, meanwhile, comprises Voiceless (Cattleya for Rai Uno in Italy), Une Belle Histoire (Tetra Media Fiction, Monogo for France 2), Balthazar (Beaubourg Stories for TF1 in France), Petra (Cattleya in association with Bartlebyfilm for Sky Italia) and Hunters (SF Studios and Harmonica Films for C More/TV4 in Sweden).


Each of these programmes, according to Berry, has performed strongly in their home countries. Of particular note are thriller Voiceless, which launched to almost six million viewers – well above Rai’s primetime slot average – and dark-humoured romantic comedy drama Une Belle Histoire (inspired by Big Talk Productions’ Cold Feet), which beat France 2’s slot average by around 36% when it premiered to more than four million viewers.



In addition, crime procedural Balthazar was in the top three dramas in France in 2019 and a third season is underway. It is also selling very well internationally, Berry notes.


“We’re living in an era in which language has less and less bearing on content consumption decisions, the quadruple Oscar-win for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is symbolic of the times we’re in. It’s been a focus for us over the past few years to look at how we build the best drama from around the world, wherever it comes from,” says Berry. “Having invested in the likes of Cattleya in Italy, Apple Tree in Denmark or Tetra Media in France, we’ve spent time building European drama and there’s a really strong market for it.



“So that’s a key part of our portfolio, which has some phenomenally strong-performing content. A show like Balthazar will rate in the top three shows in France as a crime drama in the way that Vera will rate similarly in the UK. That might not be quite as attractive to our US buyers than English language shows, for example, so it’s important to be able to tailor some of that European portfolio within Europe and some of the English-language portfolio into the English-language markets. That said, with more time to watch TV at home, viewers may become more experimental in their tastes and we can cater for that.”


Finally, the Classics category covers multi-award winning crime dramas and iconic British series, comprising Agatha Christie’s Poirot (ITV Studios for ITV), Vera (Silverprint Pictures for ITV), Prime Suspect (ITV Studios in association with WGBH Boston for ITV), Murdoch Mysteries (Shaftesbury Films for CBC in Canada) and Endeavour (Mammoth Screen for ITV in coproduction with Masterpiece).


“We’ve got an enormous catalogue available that, in many cases, is localised into local-language versions, which is really important for the European market,” Berry says.


Prime Suspect
Prime Suspect

As the cancelled trade events scheduled to take place this year move online, Berry thinks this will lead to a new, innovative way of working in the industry. ITVS has already transitioned to online with the recent online launch of its Carbon Neutral Factual Screenings, while this month it held its first Tokyo Festival online.


“One thing that has been really important for us is that we’ve quickly adapted to an online environment,” Berry says. “The results have been fantastic. I’m delighted with how buyers are engaging with online screenings and the route to market that’s taking. What we’re seeing is a lot of activity moving online, so where we can’t do face-to-face, we’re still connecting through online pre-records and live streams.


“My big takeaway from that is, irrespective of the fact we’ve been investing in moving into new ways of working over time, by the end of this crisis we will see a different way of working that we never could have imagined. And it’s going to leapfrog us in a way that couldn’t have happened unless we were really forced. There’s going to be a lot of great innovation coming out of that.


“I don’t think things will ever quite return to what we’ve known before. There will be a different combination of online, of a lot more video, and already I’m seeing that instead of picking up the phone people are video-calling, so even voice has moved into visual really quickly. The one thing I will say is that normal will be a different normal.”

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