Disney+, Apple TV Moves Shake Up International TV Industry

The Twelve
Federation Entertainment

At MIPTV 2019, major structural changes that have been bubbling under the surface for years — including the rise of online streaming, the decline in primetime success of U.S. series abroad and the growing popularity of longform drama — came to a head.

Traditionally, the global television industry has been a pretty conservative business. 

For years, decades even, the same handful of big international broadcasters and U.S. networks have gathered together with global production companies — the likes of Fremantle, EndemolShine and Banijay — at the MIPTV market in Cannes to buy and sell rights to a broadly similar mix of police and medical dramas, sitcoms, soaps, reality TV and game show formats.

This content fed into one of two broadly similar business models: free-to-air TV — where networks air big mainstream shows to draw the biggest live audience they can sell to advertisers — and subscription services, which involves offering more daring, niche or exclusive programming to customers willing to pay a premium for it. 

Most of those big broadcasters — Britain's ITV and Sky; Germany's RTL and ProSieben; France's CanalPlus; or Japan's NHK — were in Cannes this week for MIPTV, and, around the world, the two big business models of free-to-air and pay TV are still very much alive. But at MIPTV 2019, major structural changes that have been bubbling under the surface for years — including the rise of online streaming, the decline in primetime success of U.S. series abroad and the growing popularity of longform drama — came to a head.

MIPTV was bookended by two potential game changers in global TV: Apple TV's presentation, on March 25, when CEO Tim Cook unveiled his plans to take the tech giant into small-screen production and distribution; and, on April 11, Disney launched stage 2 of its SVOD game plan, revealing it will launch the streaming service Disney+ in North America on Nov. 12, and rolling out in Western Europe and parts of Asia in early 2020.

Those two new SVOD giants, which will soon be joined by stand-alone streaming platforms from the likes of WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and CBS' slowly expanding CBS All Access service, represent a seismic shift in the way television is broadcast to viewers worldwide. Increasingly, the U.S. networks and their studio parent companies, instead of just licensing their soaps and sitcoms to local broadcasters in Britain, Germany or Japan, will be selling shows directly to consumers worldwide.

“There is definitely this trend of studios going direct-to-consumer and I don't see it coming to a stop anytime soon,” said Alexander Bastin, senior vp and head of Viaplay, a major Scandinavian SVOD service. “To compete, everyone in Europe is scaling up their efforts to produce their own content and joining forces to do so."

Viaplay's parent company NENT Group partnered with French pay-TV group CanalPlus, German public broadcaster ZDF and Canadian producer BRON Studios on the historical thriller series Shadowplay, one of the biggest announcements of the MIPTV market. Taylor Kitsch, Logan Marshall-Green and Michael C. Hall will star in the series, which hails from The Bridge and Midnight Sun creator Mans Marlind. NPO in the Netherlands and CanalPlus in Poland are also on board the project, which is set to start shooting next year.

High-end production made in Europe, and not in the U.S., was everywhere at MIPTV this year. Alan Taylor, an Emmy-winning director of such series as The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, signed on to helm the international series The Swarm, based on the best-selling environmental thriller of the same name by German author Frank Schatzing. Like Shadowplay, it was commissioned by Germany's ZDF, part of the channel's push into big-budget English-language series.

Former Lionsgate head Patrick Wachsberger announced his first two projects under his new Picture Perfect TV banner: the big-budget fantasy adventure TV series Ramses, based on the best-selling books by French Egyptologist Christian Jacq; and a Crown-esque femme-focused historical drama adapted from Allison Pataki’s best-selling novels The Accidental Empress and Sisi: Empress on Her Own about the 19th century Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Ramses will be produced together with Steve Golin's Anonymous Content (The Revenant).

The trio of ex-Warner Bros executive Chris Law and former Apple execs Sebastien Janin and Andy Docherty teamed to launch Media Musketeers, a new European production company, with plans for a slate of up to eight high-end scripted series a year and an aggregate production spend of more than $1 billion in the first five years.

MIPTV's add-on television festival, CanneSeries, actually generated considerable buzz this year, thanks to European highlights, including the Spanish dramedy Perfect Life, which won the best series prize, and the Belgian jury drama The Twelve, which picked up best screenplay honors.

But amid the shift towards production, the distribution business — the bread-and-butter of MIPTV — has suffered. Several big sales companies, including Fox Network Group, Endemol Shine, BBC Studios and Talpa, downsized their presence at this year's event or decided to sit out the market altogether. Foot traffic in the Cannes Palais, where the bulk of companies have their stands, was down to a trickle. There was even talk about this being the last MIPTV.

Market organizer Reed Midem said it planned to revamp and reimagine MIPTV for 2020, but gave few details. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Laurine Garaude, head of Reed Midem’s television department, would only say it was essential “to bring to MIPTV the whole content chain,” including content producers and financiers and, presumably, the major streaming companies shaping the future of the small screen.

MIPTV remains, after sister market MIPCOM, the second-biggest event on the international TV calendar. But it remains to be seen if it can adapt fast enough to catch up with television's transformation.

“This has been a traditional free-TV event, and those companies are struggling big time,” said Anders Jensen, Viaplay president and CEO. “The market here hasn't really transformed to take into account the tremendous growth we have seen in VOD. We are stuck somewhere in between. I can see the two events — MIPTV and MIPCOM — combining into one, and it will all be about streaming.”