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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

ITV Studios

Programming Profile

ITV Studios sets out fall stall

07-09-2020

ITV Studios is gearing up for its inaugural Fall Festival in place of Mipcom and is premiering ambitious Latin-language drama Romulus via its C21 Digital Screenings suite, as well as an array of new and returning series that have proven themselves in the past six months.

 

ITV Studios (ITVS) has been among the most progressive distributors in launching its own events to connect buyers with its programme sales team beyond the calendar of traditional international markets.

 

The company’s Spring Drama and Formats Festivals have, in recent years, become integral in establishing the London or UK Screenings in February as a new regular fixture in the annual industry schedule.

 

But the announcement this July of the inaugural ITVS Fall Festival – running from September 14 to October 2 – and a concurrent withdrawal from Mipcom in Cannes created waves, coming as other big-name distributors pulled out and with organiser Reed Midem still reeling from the cancellation of MipTV in April.

 

Berry
Ruth Berry, ITV Studios

“The reality of Mipcom is it’s such a big event in the schedule that it takes months and months to plan what the content is, the assets we’re using, what’s going on the front of ITV Studios’ house and the meetings that we have,” says ITVS MD of global distribution Ruth Berry.

 

“When you’ve got to plan that far in advance, it’s very hard then to factor in the pace at which quarantining, travel, vaccines, the whole world around Covid can change.

 

“We needed more certainty to understand what the best way was to interact with our clients, so the decision for us was about finding an environment that we knew was safe, could happen no matter what, that we knew we had a successful track record in. That’s really what’s driven us to put the Fall Festival together.”

 

But she adds: “If we could all be together, sipping rosé, I’m sure we would be,” noting the value of face time with buyers and hinting that, when the situation allows, the company is likely to return to its favoured spot outside the Palais des Festivals.

 

In the meantime, the company has been busy putting in place the technical infrastructure that will allow sales reps from its Global Distribution, Global Entertainment and Armoza Formats divisions to meet with prospective buyers and present them with new and returning titles in a virtual environment.

 

The activities extend to the first showing globally of Sky Italia’s upcoming Latin-language epic Romulus on September 14 via the new C21Screenings Digital Premieres, plus an updated ITVS playlist on the portal, featuring an array of drama and comedies.

 

Romulus
Romulus

Romulus comes from Cattleya, the ITVS-backed Italian prodco behind Gomorrah, Suburra and ZeroZeroZero, alongside Sky and Groenlandia, the outfit set up by acclaimed directors Matteo Rovere and Sydney Sibilia. Described as an ambitious hyper-realistic drama, it reconstructs the tale of the genesis of Rome.

 

“I can’t say that we’ve ever seen a show in archaic Latin before but the authenticity around it, the acting, the way it’s delivered are absolutely superb and people will be so excited and absorbed in seeing it premiere,” says Berry. “It is entirely unique and just so brilliantly executed. We’ve shown clips in the past but being able to see the first full episode will be a treat for everyone.”

 

A preview show from C21TV will also be accessible ahead of the premiere on C21 Screenings, featuring Cattleya co-CEO Marco Chimenz and Sky Italia senior director original production Nils Hartmann.

 

These sorts of sessions will extend to the broader ITVS Fall Festival, enabling the distributor’s clients to take a deeper dive into its titles and talent. World Productions CEO and creative director Simon Heath, for example, is among those who will feature.

 

Line of Duty
Line of Duty

Another member of the ITVS stable, World Productions has become synonymous with Jed Mercurio-penned BBC and Netflix thriller Bodyguard, plus the acclaimed scribe’s hit BBC police procedural Line of Duty. The much anticipated sixth season of the latter will be coming to ITVS following the collapse of Kew Media Group, which previously handled distribution.

 

Also from World Productions comes true crime drama The Pembrokeshire Murders, starring The Alienist’s Luke Evans as a detective on the trail of a 1980s Welsh serial killer. Sibling network ITV commissioned the show and ITVS/BBC Studios joint-venture streamer BritBox came onboard as copro partner in early March, with shooting wrapping just ahead of the global production hiatus and the series now in post-production.

 

Another eagerly anticipated World Productions title is Vigil, a thriller set in a submarine starring Suranne Jones, who was most recently celebrated for another BBC drama, Gentleman Jack. The cast also includes Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie and Stephen Dillane. The series resumed filming in August and is also among the highlights of ITVS’s new C21 Digital Screenings playlist.

 

The Pembrokeshire Murders
The Pembrokeshire Murders

ITV CEO Carolyn McCall revealed recently that at the peak of the coronavirus shutdown some 230 ITVS shows were put on hold, but 80% of them are now returning to some kind of production. Berry admits things have been tough.

 

“It’s been a long journey in many ways,” she says. “Back in March, we didn’t quite know what the impact would be on production and over time, it did amass to that magnitude of shows that stopped. But with 80% now back in production and that figure rising daily, we’re feeling significantly more buoyant now.”

 

Unscripted will, of course, also feature as part of the ITVS Fall Festival and the recent return of the US version of Love Island on CBS, albeit shot within the quarantine bubble of a shuttered Las Vegas hotel, has been a boost.

 

Vigil
Vigil

Filming on season three of ratings-winning TF1 police procedural Balthazar has also resumed in France and, in the UK, so has season two of Mammoth Screen’s ITV crime drama McDonalds & Dodds – another title helping populate the ITVS playlist.

 

Mammoth, known for period dramas including the BBC’s Poldark and ITV’s Victoria, was also behind the former’s recent adaption of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts + Crosses, which featured on the ITVS playlist in the spring. The series has since benefitted from the proliferation of US streamers, with NBCUniversal’s Peacock picking up the show – an especially timely one amid rising racial tensions globally and especially the Black Lives Matter movement stateside.

 

Anthony, a one-off BBC drama from Jimmy McGovern and LA Productions about a murdered black British teenager, has also been picked up by Peacock and is on the ITVS slate.

 

McDonalds & Dodds
McDonalds & Dodds

WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, meanwhile, has commissioned ITVS-backed Tomorrow Studios to produce its first adult animation, Steve Dildarian and Nick Weidenfeld’s comedy 10-Year-Old-Tom, which is also in the ITVS pipeline.

 

Tomorrow Studios’ TNT sci-fi series Snowpiercer, based on the Bong Joon-Ho movie of the same name, delivered the US cablenet near double its slot average with its July season one finale. Netflix acquired international SVoD rights to the series and Berry reveals she believes it has also made the Netflix top 10. Season two is now on its way.

 

Having come onboard The Pembrokeshire Murders, BritBox is now poised for a roll-out in Australia and more than 20 other countries. Berry views the service as another buyer with a passion for British shows, and a partner that ITVS looks forward to working with, as she does with many others.

 

Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer

“We’ll continue to sell our content to a wide range of partners. We have a very international portfolio,” she notes. Romulus is a clear example, but she also cites a pair of procedurals new to the ITVS C21 Digital Screenings playlist: Swedish cop drama Thin Blue Line from Anagram for SVT and another Cattleya crime series, Masantonio. Australian teenage pregnancy drama Bump, an original for local streamer Stan from Roadshow Rough Diamond, is a further addition. “British content represents part of what we do but not everything,” says Berry.

 

Not only has the growing number of streamers in the last six months stoked demand for ITVS titles, established players have also had to stock up to meet the needs of soaring consumption. Linear networks, meanwhile, have been scrambling for product to fill gaps in their schedules.

 

Looking around the marketplace, Berry believes it’s in a “mid-Covid” phase. “We’re certainly not post-Covid, but it doesn’t feel quite the same sort of shock that it was at the beginning.” And within this context, she says, the streamers are “looking strong compared with broadcasters that might be a bit more challenged around advertising and economics.”

 

“They’ve got quite a dominant position in conversations at the moment and they’re hungry,” observes Berry.

 

Thin Blue Line
Thin Blue Line

The situation has led to some interesting deals that might not have been conceivable pre-pandemic. BBC2, the UK public broadcaster’s second biggest free-to-air network, for example, acquired all three seasons of period drama Harlots in July. The series was originally commissioned by paynet ITV Encore with Hulu onboard as a copro partner and StarzPlay UK also having previously released it.

 

“If you’d asked me 12 months ago, if I could see BBC2 buying that show in the stage of evolution it’s at now, I probably would have found that quite tricky,” says Berry. “It’s brilliant to see it on the channel, and doing so incredibly well. It’s their second highest rated drama this year so far.”

 

Elsewhere, Little Birds, a Warp Films adaptation of Anaïs Nin’s erotic short stories set in Tangiers in the 1950s, has been doing well for Sky Atlantic. “In a world where we’ve probably all had a fair amount of stress over the last six months, it’s escapism at its best,” says Berry, promising a string of international sales in the offing.

 

Masantonio
Masantonio

Brassic, meanwhile, a Danny Brocklehurst-penned Sky1 comedy-drama from Calamity Films, was picked up by Hulu in the US at the start of the year and season two aired over the summer, rating especially well among 16-34s. It’s an example, says the ITVS exec, of an array of returning series that have proven popular among the distributor’s 46,000 hours of programming during the pandemic – a catalogue that also spans “evergreen” signature series like Marple, Poirot, Lewis and Endeavour.

 

“It’s just really good, funny, light-hearted comedy-drama,” says Berry, noting also the tremendous success ITVS has had with Schitt’s Creek, the Dan and Eugene Levy CBC/Pop TV comedy whose sixth and final season earlier this year garnered no fewer than 15 Emmy nominations.

 

“It really has popped in the US, which has driven an increased demand in the rest of the world,” says Berry, again citing the series’ feel-good, escapist elements as contributing factors for its present popularity.

 

Schitt’s Creek
Schitt’s Creek

New to the ITVS slate and its C21 Digital Screenings playlist is family comedy-drama series Worzel Gummidge, Mackenzie Crook’s new take on the children’s novels of Barbara Euphan Todd, which aired on BBC1 in December, 40 years on from its last TV adaptation. More episodes of the Leopard Pictures production are said to be in the works and the show is another that comes to ITVS after the demise of Kew Media Group.

 

The Canadian company went into administration prior to the pandemic pre-Covid. But the ripple effects of this and further market consolidation will be felt by the industry for months to come, Berry argues, and the present situation will only precipitate further such transformation.

 

“Covid has brought a lot of change to the market and challenges,” she says. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the industry copes and evolves. There’s a good chance we’ll see more consolidation over the next 12 months or so and scale will become more important to be able to weather the storms.

 

Worzel Gummidge
Worzel Gummidge

“People will be more open to thinking about partnerships and what sort of risk-mitigation we all need to think about for when the impossible happens – which has just happened. So, it’s interesting times for the industry. There will be winners and losers, sadly, but hopefully more winners.”

 

ITVS and its broadcast parent face their own challenges, but Berry remains upbeat.

 

“One key takeaway for me over the last six months has been the incredible resilience, entrepreneurialism, innovation and sheer gusto from our industry. There’s been such an incredible amount of camaraderie, collaboration and innovation that, despite it having been tough times, I feel really positive and optimistic about the seismic changes, the learnings and what will come out of this in a much stronger way.”



More programming profiles

  • 01-04-2020

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

     

    Berry
    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 ITVStudios.com, 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.
    READ MORE