"Peak Drama" Hits MIPCOM TV Market: "It's a Bubble, and … It's Going to Pop"


An unprecedented amount of dealmaking (thanks to streaming services and a decline in feature films) at the annual event prompts veterans to wonder if global television sales have reached their limit.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

After a disappointing Berlin market, a weak Cannes and a tepid Toronto, the buzz in the worldwide film business isn't great. Those who want evidence that television, not movies, now is king need only look at the staggering activity at this year's MIPCOM international TV market.

Even as ratings dip at U.S. networks and there are signs of weakness in some European territories, the Cannes streets during MIPCOM had the giddy feel of a boomtown. A devastating storm that hit the region just before the market — killing 20 people and prompting the cancellation of opening night festivities — failed to put a damper on MIP, where international buyers come to select shows for their networks or streaming services.

Market veterans say the number of drama projects introduced was unprecedented: Mark Gordon, producer of Criminal Minds and Grey's Anatomy, will make a new FBI procedural, Darkness Falls, together with German network ProSiebenSat.1; Game of Thrones producer Frank Doelger and Jonathan Stamp (Rome) will team for an original fantasy epic titled The Perished Land; John Woo will executive produce a noir crime series with Brit director Alex Garcia Lopez (Misfits); and French network TF1 and Germany's RTL are joining forces to bankroll an ambitious, and potentially controversial, 10-part drama series on the life of Hitler.

"It's too much!" joked Tracey Ullman, pointing to an ad for yet another new GOT-style fantasy series. "What could I play in one of these things? The ugly witch?" The veteran comic was at MIP promoting her new BBC series, The Tracey Ullman Show, one of several shows the British broadcaster touted.

There were plenty of people warning that "peak drama" — the point when TV production supply exceeds demand — is coming. "We know that it's a bubble, and we know it's going to pop," says Fox International's Sharon Tal Yguado — but the buyers kept buying dramas, which far outpaced comedy and unscripted format sales.

Deals were everywhere, with big U.S. series like CBS Studios' Limitless, Sony TV's The Player, The Muppets from Disney and Fox's The X-Files reboot (which had its world premiere at MIPCOM — a first for a major network series) selling out worldwide. There were plenty of U.S. deals for foreign series, too: European crime drama The Last Panthers went to Sundance TV, A+E bought Brit horror series The Frankenstein Chronicles and Esquire Network scooped up Beowulf, a U.K. fantasy epic.

Independent film companies, who just a few years back wouldn't have been caught dead slumming at a TV market, were front and center on the Croisette. The Weinstein Co. (sans Harvey) was there to present its big-budget period drama War and Peace, while Germany's Constantin Film screened ShadowHunters: The Mortal Instruments, the TV adaptation of its (flopped) YA fantasy feature. Luc Besson's EuropaCorp Television Studios, launched last year, used MIP to announce three new shows with three networks: NBC's straight-to-series order for Taken, an adaptation of the Liam Neeson action film franchise; and pilots for Fox (the pre-apocalyptic drama These Final Hours) and ABC (corporate thriller Janus). Besson also confirmed that he will, for the first time, write and produce an original TV series. "We have literally doubled the size of our stand [at MIPCOM] — we are expanding rapidly," says Stuart Baxter, president of eOne Television International. The company came to the market with the blockbuster series Fear the Walking Dead and Into the Badlands.

Baxter believes the boom in TV drama is driven primarily by the decline in feature films on television. "The number of slots for movies on TV has dropped so dramatically around the world, and TV drama is filling a lot of that space," he says. "You are seeing a lot of film talent switching to TV because of that."

Of course, another reason is the rise of streaming video outlets, particularly Netflix and Amazon, which have poured money into original production. At MIP, Netflix announced its first Italian series — a Mafia drama that the web giant will produce with RAI, Italy's conservative public broadcaster.

The online video boom also has added another revenue stream for content producers. CBS, for example, after selling first-window rights for its series Zoo to free-TV broadcasters worldwide, inked a lucrative second-window deal with Netflix. Traditional networks — in the U.S. and internationally — love to criticize Netflix, but the reality is that the streaming behemoth not only has helped create the new market for television content but continues to drive up prices (and volume) as others attempt to compete.

"All the traditional broadcasters are also doing their own SVOD services," says Armando Nunez, president and CEO of the CBS global distribution group. "It doesn't behoove any of us in the distribution business to do things that will cannibalize existing partnerships. We have to figure this out together."


5 Game-Changing Deals From MIPCOM

Darkness Falls
Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds producer Mark Gordon set up Darkness Falls with Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1. With few U.S. networks making procedurals, more talent will look overseas where these shows still are hot.

EuropaCorp Series
With a series deal with NBC (Taken) and pilot orders from Fox (These Final Hours) and ABC (Janus), Luc Besson’s shingle takes to the next level the European small-screen invasion begun by Gaumont and StudioCanal.

False Flag
Fox’s worldwide deal for a foreign-language series (Fox International already has remake rights to the Israeli spy show) will be the first of many such global plays by the studios.

The Frankenstein Chronicles
A+E picking up ITV’s Frankenstein Chronicles is further proof that second-tier cable players are hungry for Euro drama. Even Esquire Network got into the act, pouncing on ITV’s Beowulf.

The public-private partnership model between Netflix and Italian public broadcaster RAI for their new Mafia drama could become standard for Netflix as it expands abroad (to China, for instance).