MIPCOM: Traditional Players Show Strength in Transforming TV Market

Norwegian series 'Skam' ('Shame') was the surprise hit of the market.

Facebook and Snapchat signed big deals at the international television market, which wraps up Thursday, but old-school companies continue to make their mark on the business.

It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.

MIPCOM, the world's biggest television market, wraps up Thursday in Cannes, and this year's event was marked by a return of the old guard as traditional networks, production companies and platform operators are finding new ways to finance, package and distribute shows for an increasingly global and on-demand audience.

Recent MIPCOMs were marked by anxiety among established TV players as streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime rushed into the international business, pouring money into TV series both American and foreign and threatening to upend or demolish traditional business models. The streaming giants haven't gone away — though Amazon Studios boss Roy Price has, having resigned following allegations of sexual harassment — but MIPCOM this year proved TV 1.0 has some life in it yet.

Established players — Discovery Communications, 21st Century Fox's National Geographic Television, European giants such as Sky and Telefonica and even “dinosaur networks” like NBCUniversal and CBS — provided the most eye-catching deals and innovative new models of the market.

NBCUniversal this week unveiled a production joint venture with social media group Snap that will see the network develop and produce original series for the Snapchat platform. Snap has already had success repurposing traditional TV programming such as The Voice on the Shows feature of its Snapchat platform, which focuses on longform content. Discovery and Snap inked a separate deal that will see Discovery's pan-European sports network Eurosport deliver made-for-mobile content from next year's Winter Olympics (to which Eurosport holds European rights) to Snapchat.

And CBS, best known for its bread-and-butter procedurals like CSI, surprised the global industry with its acquisition, shortly before MIPCOM, of Australia’s Ten Network. By buying up the free-to-air broadcaster (for a bargain basement price), CBS has both established a beachhead in the traditionally closed Australian market and laid the groundwork for introducing its All-Access streaming service Down Under.

“Everyone is struggling with business models, with finding ways to measure and monetize programming and worrying about the impact of global SVOD and local SVOD will have on the marketplace,” said CBS Studios International president Armando Nunez, “but in the end, all those conversations come back to content. Because nobody watches technology.”

And at MIPCOM this year, there was no shortage of content, particularly high-end drama. Nat Geo, a relative newcomer to fiction, wowed with its new slate of drama series, including The Long Road Home starring Michael Kelly (House of Cards); biographic drama Genius, whose second season will see Antonio Banderas play Pablo Picasso; and The State, a controversial drama based on the true stories of British men and women who’ve left their lives behind to join Isis in Syria.

Peter Kosminsky, writer/director of The State, praised Nat Geo for backing “something that is not obviously commercial” after the project was “turned down by almost everyone.” In the U.K., Channel 4 co-financed The State.

Elsewhere, new models of making fiction included Gone, a procedural backed by NBCUniversal, French network TF1 and Germany's RTL which stars Chris Noth as the head of a team that tracks down missing people. The series was designed primarily with the international market, and not the U.S., in mind, as was Deep State, an espionage thriller starring Mark Strong, which is the first regionally scripted commission from Fox Networks Group Europe & Africa; and The Lawyer, a Nordic Noir thriller produced by a European combination of France's Studiocanal, Scandinavia pay-TV group Viaplay and Swedish free-to-air network TV3, which played to a packed auditorium of buyers on Monday.

Perhaps the hottest drama property on offer at MIPCOM was a teen drama out of Norway. Skam (Shame), which has become a huge hit at home on public broadcaster NRK and a social media success worldwide, was snatched up for local adaptations by multiple European broadcasters, including France Television, Germany's ZDF and Moviestar+ in Spain.

On Wednesday, Facebook announced a deal with Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment to create an English-language, online-only version of Skam for the platform. The series's unique approach to TV drama has characters in its high school melodrama acting like regular teens — they post photos, updates and videos to Instagram and Facebook 24/7 — and those posts form part of the show's unfolding storyline. The results have been impressive: Over four seasons, Skam has seen weekly audiences grow from 24,000 to 1.26 million (Norway’s total population is 5 million), outperforming most primetime hits on TV or streaming platforms.

"When I first heard about Skam, it felt like I was seeing the future of storytelling. We’re incredibly enthusiastic about bringing it to global audiences,” said Facebook head of creative global strategy Ricky Van Veen.

Facebook’s growing appetite for original programming was a hot topic among producers making the rounds of MIPCOM. The social media giant is shopping for both fiction and non-fiction projects that can be greenlighted quickly, without years in development. While Facebook is asking partners to sign non-disclosure agreements, sources said the platform is offering competitive license fees and, in some cases, a cut from advertising revenue generated on its site. In his keynote speech to MIPCOM on Wednesday, Van Veen said that while Facebook will continue to commission shows for its Watch platform in order to seed growth, the bulk of content will come from third-party publishers and individual users.

While drama grabbed the headlines again this year, 2017 marked a return, of sorts, for non-scripted programming. ITV's guilty pleasure Love Island closed multiple deals for international adaptations, and Dutch reality TV king John de Mol launched two buzzy new shows: a seniors version of global hit The Voice and a survival show, Lost in Translation, featuring contestants who don't speak each others' language.

“There are so many buyers out there and the appetite for content seems insatiable,” said one veteran showrunner who has multiple projects in the works for both traditional and streaming outlets. “I'd call it a bubble, but I've been calling it that for three years now, and the bubble just keeps getting bigger.”