Série Series: Let’s talk about commissioning! Part One
by Aurore Engelen
- European channels are talking about their editorial lines and their long-term visions. The first round involved Jan Maxa, Czech TV; Ivar Kohn, NRK (Norway); and Françoise Mayor, RTS (Switzerland)
Fiction is one of the most-watched genres in Europe, and homegrown series are an efficient means for broadcasters to assert a strong editorial identity. In 2014, the ten leading European countries produced no fewer than 715 new series. There’s a real thirst for local content, and European series are growing at the expense of US ones. Today, international co-production is a major opportunity for many broadcasters as well.
Norway has four main players, and the NRK, the public broadcasting company, is leading the market with a 28% market share. Nordic fiction has undeniably increased its reputation lately on the international market, and series such as Mammon or Lilyhammer have successfully reached audiences worldwide. The NRK produces three dramas a year, but despite Norway’s small market, its releases demonstrate high production values. Mammon is a cornerstone of Norwegian fiction, benefitting from a comfortable budget of €1-1.2 million per episode. Though the national public broadcaster must avoid the niche game in order to engage a broad audience, it tries to be as original as possible. NRK avoids playing it too safe or too conservative, while providing programmes for a mainstream audience that desires inventiveness with a strong local foundation. Mammon, Lilyhammer and Heavy Water have proved that Norway can make dramas, and NRK has decided to think out of the box this season with the release of Sommerbaten. The show follows the path of a boat cruising along the Norwegian coast. The on-board chef has been killed, and a police officer is desperately looking for the culprit. It takes five days to release an episode: two days of shooting, two days of editing, and the show is aired the following day. NRK plans to broadcast the final episode of the season live. The show costs €200,000 and has a 40% market share. Though Norway co-produces with its Scandinavian neighbours (Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland), it rarely seeks partners abroad, except when required by a story’s plot. NRK cannot risk losing its local identity, as being Norwegian has become a brand in itself.
RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse Romande) is a French-language public broadcasting channel. It is the market leader in Francophone Switzerland, with a 20% market share of the main channels. International fiction has been a strong presence in Switzerland: in fact, in the 1990s and early 2000s, RTS co-produced most of its television dramas and sitcoms with France. However, less than ten years ago, RTS launched a new strategy: producing original dramas, and today, these Swiss dramas are coming of age. Up until 2010, RTS focused mainly on its local audience: French-speaking as well as German- and Italian-speaking viewers; but in 2010, the channel won a prize in La Rochelle, and recognised its international potential.
RTS produces two shows per year, but it has numerous programmes in development right now. The traditional slot for local fiction is Saturday at 8 pm, requiring it to be family-orientated and appropriate for a broad audience, despite the channel’s interest in edgier programming. Station Horizon has been received as a rather original show with beautiful scores, and RTS is launching a new, paranormal fiction show in January, called Anomalia. RTS does a pitching session each year, in which it provides coaching for writers and it works with independent producers. The budget for shows is €600,000 per episode, and thanks to in-house facilities (studios, production means, make-up or hair artists), the production values are very good. Though local content is key, RTS does participate in international co-productions that include Swiss elements in their scripts.
Czech TV is the national broadcaster and the leader of the market in the Czech Republic. It airs several channels, including City One, which has a 14.7% market share. Last year, the best local show had a 39% share. Scripted series are a favourite among Czech audiences, though the fiction tradition that existed before the 1990s has mostly disappeared, leaving Czech TV with a smaller market. The broadcaster produces up to 80 hours of fiction per year, which is highly demanding, and the budget is €300,000 per episode, with period dramas requiring slightly more. At the same time, Czech TV has suffered owing to an increase in international shootings in Prague, because since Czech production teams cannot afford to increase their rates, they face last-minute defections by technicians who are offered better rates on international productions. Czech audiences love crime stories, from novels to TV series. Mondays are crime nights, and Czech TV has been trying new things with them lately, especially with The Cases of the First Department, a realistic show based on true cases. Much like other European broadcasters, Czech TV tries to push the boundaries while maintaining its audience. Co-production has proven difficult, as audiences tend to focus on local dramas. Nevertheless, Czech TV produces movies about international historical figures, such as a recent piece on Jan Hus (in co-production with Arte). Czech TV also does comedy, and it is currently working on a sitcom about Czech people flying to the moon – watch this space!