European Channels Dumping American Series for Homegrown Fare

Jens Richter

“Five years ago, American series dominated primetime across Europe ... now its local stuff,” says FremantleMedia International CEO Jens Richter in his Monte Carlo TV festival keynote.

The boom in Netflix and other SVOD services worldwide has had an unexpected impact on American TV drama: It's become less attractive, at least for the big free-to-air networks that dominate European TV. 

“Look at the programming schedules for free-TV channels in Europe. Five years ago, primetime was dominated by American series,” said Jens Richter, CEO of TV production and sales group FremantleMedia International. “Now look at the same broadcasters: In many regions you can't find any U.S. series in primetime. Instead it's all local stuff.”

Speaking in an industry keynote at the Monte Carlo Television festival on Wednesday, Richter argued that the spread of SVOD worldwide has led to a demand for day-and-date releasing for U.S. series, disrupting the traditional international television model, whereby a show airs in the U.S. and then, months later, rolls out globally.

“If you aren't day-and-date with an American show in Sweden, for example, you'll lose your first 300,000 viewers to piracy,” Richter said.

While he admitted that U.S. series, when they work, “are still the cheapest proposition an (international) broadcaster can get,” Richter argued that fewer American shows are hitting that mark globally, leading international networks to turn instead to local fare.

Since taking over at FremantleMedia International last year, Richter has put a focus on European drama series, backing shows such as Paolo Sorrentino's Vatican drama The Young Pope, starring Jude Law, and German-language spy thriller Deutschland '83, which has its world premiere on Sundance Channel on Wednesday before rolling out on European networks including Germany's RTL and Canal Plus in France.

Richter said the decline in value for U.S. series globally is already impacting Hollywood studios. Hollywood output deals, in which a foreign broadcaster agrees to buy up everything a U.S. studio produces, “are seeing their price point move (downward),” Richter said.

The big exception, he admitted, was his home country of Germany, where Hollywood output deals are still the norm. “Germany is 10 years behind everyone else,” he said. 

Richter argued that because of the global TV market's “fragmented eco-system,” with new digital channels and SVOD platforms popping up “like mushrooms,” cookie-cutter series are out and shows with an “incredibly unique piece of IP,” are in.

He pointed to American Gods, Starz' adaptation of the Neil Gaiman fantasy novel, as an example. FremantleMedia North America is producing the series, with writers/showrunners Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Heroes). FremantleMedia International will distribute American Gods worldwide. 

“If you go into the serialized space these days you need to an incredibly strong piece of IP,” Richter said. “With American Gods, the IP is huge, Gaiman is huge, so the (international) prospects are strong.”