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MIPTV Gets Off to a Dramatic Start

Fremantle Media Logo - H 2012

Drama is hot (again) as FremantleMedia Enterprises signs a major first-look deal with producer Justin Bodle and announces a new collaboration with Hulu.

The man who runs FremantleMedia Enterprises David Ellender was looking a bit bleary eyed this morning at a breakfast meeting, but he had a good excuse, having signed a major first-look deal with producer Justin Bodle (The Day of the Triffids, Flood, Colditz, Archangel Crusoe, etc.) only the night before the MIPTV market opened today.

“We took this one right down to the wire,” said Ellender. But the agreement to develop and make four dramas with an internationally recognized producer who has experience putting together cross territory, co-productions was worth the loss of sleep because in the wake of the international successes of dramas like Downton Abbey and Mad Men, there is a renewed interest across the board from broadcasters in quality, scripted drama. (The Bodle deal closely follows another FremantleMedia deal with UK celebrated writer Paul Abbott called Hit and Miss debuting in May on the UK’s Sky Atlantic.)

Moreover it is not only the traditional TV broadcasters who are showing renewed interest in drama. Joining the international set of channel and programming executives that traditionally populate Cannes at this time of year, are the new players, from Amazon, Netflix and Facebook to Hulu and YouTube.  In particular the subscription services like Netflix and Amazon are interested in long-running dramas because of the simple fact that they work really well in an on-demand, binge-viewing environment, say executives who are negotiating with them.  “The disruptors like Hulu, Netflix and Google TV have all reached the same conclusion and that is that high-quality video is crucial to their growth plan,” said Tony Cohen, CEO of FremantleMedia as he announced a new deal with Hulu to act as the global distributor for original programming that is generated by Hulu. “We see these platforms as big growth opportunities and new partnerships.”

The first of the Bodle-FremantleMedia new pact on drama development is Fire of London (working title) which is billed as an “epic four-hour TV miniseries” about how modern Londoners would react if a fire on the scale of the calamitous fire of London of 1666 were repeated today.

The “disruptors” are certainly eager to work with the TV makers, with both MySpace TV--which is set to launch this summer in the US under its new ownership that includes Justin Timberlake--and Amazon telling delegates today at MIPTV that they want to license TV content.  “If you are not already talking to us you should be,” Amazon’s global head of digital video Anthony Bay exonerated a packed auditorium this afternoon.  Fittingly, the next event after Bay’s speech was the screening of episode one of Julian Fellowes' Titanic, complete with bags of popcorn provided by producer ITV Studios. (Amazon held separate meetings in London last week with all the big studio heads, according to an industry source to lay out its European roll-our plans which include adding France, Spain and Italy to the markets led but e UK and Germany where is already runs online streaming TV services under the Lovefilm brand. “Amazon clearly is trying to pre-empt Netflix’s next moves in Europe and are talking about multi-territory deals,” said the source.)

Josh Sapan, the CEO and President of AMC Networks, gave THR a preview of his speech scheduled for tomorrow (Monday April 2) saying that dramas with long story arcs are good for subscription on-demand services like Netflix because they are engaging and, importantly for the traditional TV business, that this does not mean that they are cannibalizing the viewers from traditional TV. He explained that the season premiere of series 5 of Mad Men in the US last week was up 20% year on year versus the premiere of series 4, “which is very unusual.”

He explained that this is evidence that offering prior seasons on Netflix wets demand for the next series. “For these long-running dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and others, we think that these alternative means of distribution like Netflix, if they are managed correctly, can literally enhance traditional TV and pay TV more than any other programme format.” said Sapan.

This of course helps a channel like AMC-owned The Sundance Channel, which is built around scripted dramas, and underlines the importance of AMC/Sundance Channel’s announcement today that it is licensing several dramas including Weeds, The Straits, Damages and mini series The Slap.