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The market for dramas, non-fiction and comedy shows produced outside the U.S.— growing steadily for years — has gotten a super-charged kick thanks to U.S.-based streamers, which have pumped cash into new originals from Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Investment in international series, a trend started with Netflix with shows like Narcos (Mexico), Dark (Germany), Money Heist (Spain), and The Kingdom (South Korea), and continued by Amazon Prime (Fleabag from the U.K., India series Made in Heaven), has become a key part of the growth strategy of every big new streamer launching on the market.
In February, a year after launching in Europe, Disney+ unveiled a slate of 10 new European originals, including series from France (Parallels), Italy (The Good Mothers), and Germany (Sam – A Saxon), part of its push to commissioning 50 productions on the continent by 2024. Last week the streamer hired veteran U.K. producer Lee Mason (It’s a Sin, The End of the F***ing World) as its second director of scripted content for the European region. Disney+ is expected to unveil a new slate of U.K. originals soon.
HBO Max and Apple TV+ have doubled down on Israeli series in their international roll-out, with the WarnerMedia subsidiary snatching up Hebrew-language hits including On The Spectrum —a dramedy about autistic adults—and the French-Israeli psychological thriller series Possessions, while Apple TV+ pays top dollar for spy series Tehran and female-focused psychological drama Losing Alice.
Meanwhile, Netflix and Amazon are, if anything, picking up the pace of their international commissions. Netflix has committed to spending nearly $500 million this year on original films and TV series in South Korea and is ramping up production in Japan, with some 16 original anime projects announced or in the works. A year after opening offices in Paris, and hot off the success of its crime comedy series Lupin, starring Omar Sy, Netflix has commissioned a slate of French series, including The 7 lives of Lea, and the thriller Bendo, part of a strategy to produce or launch 27 original French films, series, and documentaries in the territory this year. Amazon’s Parisian investments including comedy series Greek Salad and French adaptations of popular unscripted formats including LOL and Celebrity Hunted.
International markets are “the next big battleground in the streaming wars,” argues Peter Csathy, founder and chairman of advisory firm CreaTV Media. With the domestic U.S. market “essentially saturated,” he says, major players are “increasingly dependent upon overseas subscriptions to justify their long-term goals and ambitions.”
The U.S. streamers have learned, notes Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at PP Foresight, that “it is paramount to launch in as many markets as possible and forge key distribution deals with local providers. Build a base, scale the business, understand viewers’ habits and then invest in local production.”
For international producers, and the sales agents hawking their non-English shows at the digital Mip-TV market this week, that “local investment” means new business.
“There’s a real arms race underway,” says Matt Creasey the global sales, co-productions, and acquisitions executive for Banijay, whose new drama slate at Mip-TV includes Viewpoint, the latest crime series from Killing Eve director Harry Bradbeer, and A Class Apart, a boarding school drama out of Sweden. “The opportunities are off the board, both on a sales and co-production level, to work with these new players.”
Just how long this current boom continues depends on how successful the new batch of would-be global players is in establishing themselves in international markets. For that, argues Csathy, streamers won’t be able to rely solely on their premium domestic franchises but will need locally sourced “must-see TV.”
While streamers like to boast of the global appeal of their international shows, the primary audience for these new series is local consumers, the group platforms are counting on to hit their growth targets.
“Looking at the ambition and the production value of our series and our movies, I am sure that they can have an impact outside of our territory,” notes Thomas Dubois, Amazon Originals France Creative Director for Amazon Studios. “But the main focus for our original productions in France is the French audience.”
“Localized content – not just transported U.S. programming – is strategically critical for success,” Csathy concludes. “All of this is a boon to global production. For creatives all around the world, it is the best of times, as all of these major streamers battle it out to break out and be a global winner.”
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