MIPCOM: Buyers are Bullish But is There a Deluge of Drama?

David M. Russell/CBS
'Limitless'

"We know that it’s a bubble, and we know it's going to pop," said Fox International's Sharon Tal Yguado about the amount of high-end product in the market.

The explosion of high-end drama production was evident everywhere at MIPCOM, from U.S. network productions such as Limitless, The Player and X-Files, to high-end cable (AMC's Into The Badlands, A+E's War and Peace) to a seemingly unending supply of international shows including Sky and CanalPlus’ The Last Panthers, which saw Sundance come on board as a co-producer during the market; John Woo's crime thriller Cognition, created with Brit director Alex Garcia Lopez for Catalyst Global Media; and the upcoming Hitler drama series from France's TF1 and Germany's RTL.

“I was walking the floor yesterday with [Showtime Networks President] David Nevins, and I was just reminded of just how much content is being produced and at least being attempted to be distributed around the world,” said Armando Nunez, president and CEO of the CBS global distribution group. “One could make the argument that there are too many at the moment. We go through waves in the business. Right now there is a lot of drama out there. Is it sustainable? We'll see. At the moment it's a vibrant market. Things are good.”

Limitless, The Player and X-Files all sold out worldwide and Sony Pictures Television’s The Art of More — starring Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth and Cary Elwes — sold to more than 25 countries. A+E acquired period crime drama The Frankenstein Chronicles.

But as bullish as buyers are, and there were roughly 4,800 in attendance at this market, some are raising concerns that the "Golden Age" of television will give way to a glut of product.

“I still want to hang on and call it the 'Golden Age' for a little bit more, but we know that it’s a bubble, and we know it’s gonna pop,” said Fox International Channels evp, scripted and Fox International Studios head Sharon Tal Yguado.

Yguado, who worked on global behemoth The Walking Dead, predicts television will follow the path of the film market, with indies and expensive blockbusters bookending the business with a dearth of mid-range product. "It saddens me, but I think we are going that way. We’re going to have big blockbusters with mega-huge names and incredible packages … and you are going to see on the other hand the indies.” The focus will be on winning awards, not winning over live viewers, she predicts.

Stuart Baxter, president of eOne Television International concurred: "I suspect there is a limit to how much can be produced,” he said. “At some stage there is going to be an upscaling of the documentaries, the reality, the light entertainment, the comedies. But there is such a huge increase in supply at the moment, the issue is standing out from the crowd. You really don't want to be in that middle. Either you have to have the very top end, best shows, or I think you want the more targeted, focused, niche shows, cable shows hitting particular demos."

Lionsgate president worldwide television and digital distribution president Jim Packer said that the huge volume of scripted series in the marketplace presented a programming challenge. "We don't need filler shows anymore," he said. "We need to swing big and for shows that can cut through the clutter and be smart and edgy and define brands for international partners."

Several developments are driving the trend towards more drama, including an expanding digital and online market. SVOD players — global giants like Netflix and Amazon as well as local networks with online offerings, such as Canal Plus' CanalPlay and Sky's Now TV — are all hungry for more and better drama.

Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins, in his MIPCOM keynote speech noted that the growing international market "with increased broadband access, an array of devices around the world and great original programs being produced," makes a "compelling" argument for his U.S.-focused company to roll out worldwide. They’re also looking to find a way in to original drama series.

“Original content is now a very important part of our portfolio because defining shows can set up your brand for years," Hopkins added. "Just look at what shows like The Shield, The Sopranos, South Park and Mad Men have done for FX,HBO, Comedy Central and AMC. That’s what we want to achieve.”

Platform partnerships also abounded, with Endemol Shine announcing a multi-year strategic partnership with DreamWorks Animation’s AwesomenessTV, which will see Endemol Shine help launch the online youth network’s channels in the U.K., France, Germany, Spain and Brazil.

While the focus may currently be on addictive, serialized drama, the procedural, once the mainstay of network TV, is “definitely not over,” said Fox Television Group co-CEO Gary Newman. “These things go in cycles. The procedural was so successful in the U.S., it’s inevitable people will get a little tired. But if a writer comes along with a great procedural that recreates the genre, we’re very interested,” he said.

Criminal Minds producer Mark Gordon announced his new procedural Darkness Falls during the week. The show will be developed together with German network ProSiebenSat.1 and sold worldwide by eOne. “I don't think there's too much good television," he argued.

Fred Haber, who has been selling shows like the Grammys and the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at MIPCOM for decades, said one "top five" international broadcaster was searching out specials and events for the first time in years. With the deluge of drama on the air, networks are looking for unique programming that will prompt viewers to tune in live. “He said, ‘Dramas are a dime a dozen and they’re not working because viewers are getting confused,’” said Haber.

The risks are becoming greater, especially for broadcasters who still rely on ad dollars. “There are a ton of great dramas but great is irrelevant, there’s only so many sets of eyes that can watch a drama at a time. Broadcasters still need to deliver viewers and want to charge the Fords and Gillettes of the world a lot of money,” said Haber.

Still some weren’t as quick to see the sunset of the "Golden Age." Said Endemol Shine Group CEO Sophie Turner Laing: “It is the Golden Age. TV has never been in better health. We talk about it as an industry past its best when its in its prime. I’ve heard the death of TV too many times. I don’t share that view. I genuinely believe content creators have never had it as good.”

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