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If the boom in television production is a bubble, it doesn’t look like it’s one that will deflate anytime soon.
Deep-pocketed U.S. streamers are behind much of this. Netflix is expected to boost content spending on an amortized basis by 26 percent in 2021 to $13.6 billion. HBO Max, which will launch in 27 European territories over the coming year, last week unveiled details of its new originals slate, which will include Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That… and Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon.
Add to that the growing slates of U.S. and international shows coming out of Disney+ — on Oct. 8 the streamer announced Paralleles, a new French sci-fi series it will bow next year — and AppleTV+ (including new seasons of Emmy-winners Ted Lasso and The Morning Show), as well as ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ (The Good Fight, The Game reboot) and NBCUniversal’s Peacock (One of Us is Lying, Saved by the Bell).
But traditional free- and pay-TV companies are also ramping up commissions. A recent study by London-based Ampere Analysis showed the leading free-to-air broadcasters in Western Europe — the likes of BBC and ITV in the U.K., France’s TF1 or RTL and ARD in Germany — commissioned nearly 600 first-run shows in the second quarter of 2021, both for their linear and video-on-demand channels. The figure represents a 23 percent jump over the same period last year and an increase of 64 percent over commissions in the pre-pandemic second quarter of 2019.
According to Ampere Analysis research director Richard Broughton, for international broadcasters, the spending spree “is as much out of necessity for some groups as it is a strategic choice.”
Many European broadcasters have traditionally relied on a steady supply of imported series from the U.S. to fill their schedules, but as U.S. media giants increasingly push their new series onto in-house platforms, international channels are shifting their acquisition budgets towards original production. “Buyers have needed to find alternative options to bolster their slates,” notes Broughton.
ITV commissioned more than 60 new shows in the first half of 2021, compared to 31 in the same period in 2019. Germany’s RTL has doubled the volume of new projects, greenlighting 90 new shows in the first half of 2021 compared to 42 over the same period in 2019.
Free-TV networks are following in the wake of regional pay-TV platforms. Comcast-owned Sky, which has pay-TV services across the U.K., Ireland, Italy, and German-speaking Europe, has been focusing on in-house originals for years now. Sky upped its originals output by 50 percent in 2021, with such series as Michael Winterbottom’s This Sceptered Isle, starring Kenneth Branagh, and the new season of German-language period drama Babylon Berlin.
Viaplay, the streaming service owned by Scandinavia’s NENT Group is bankrolling an ambitious slate of Nordic and English-language originals, including Litvinenko, a limited series co-produced with ITV Studios starring David Tennant as Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident who was murdered in London in 2006.
Viaplay, which currently operates in the Nordic territories, Poland, and the Baltic region, will launch in the U.S. later this year, followed by the Netherlands, the U.K., Canada, and across German-speaking Europe in 2022/2023.
“You have to be of a certain scale to compete for top talent,” says NENT Group CEO Anders Jensen, explaining the strategy behind the company’s global rollout.
The battle for talent will be in sharp focus at this year’s MIPCOM as will be the battle for the attention of international buyers of buzz shows and other content. Canneseries, the international television festival that runs alongside the market, is gaining in importance as a curated showcase of the top projects on offer.
Original series, including Beta Film’s royal romancer Sisi, Banijay Rights’ Nordic culture clash comedy Countrymen, and Russian mystery series Dreams of Alice, from 1-2-3 Production, are among the buzzier titles going in this year. The best series from this year’s selection, at least according to the competition jury, headed by Game of Thrones alum Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, will be unveiled on Wednesday.
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