Série Series: Let’s talk about commissioning! Part Two
by Aurore Engelen
- European channels are talking about their editorial lines and their long-term vision. The second round involved Hanne Palmquist (SVT), Katrine Volgelsang (TV2) and Sveda Shishmanova (BNT)
Fiction is one of the most-watched genres in Europe, and homemade 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 big opportunity for many broadcasters.
Sweden has four main players, and SVT, the national broadcasting company, is the market leader. Sweden has released a number of successful TV dramas in the past few years, such as Bron (The Bridge), Real Humans and The Legacy. SVT has no fewer than 11 slots to fill with its productions, for which the company co-produces at least four long series each year with other Nordic TV stations. The Bridge, co-produced with Denmark, has been a real hit. The third season will air next September, and the rights have been sold in many countries – furthermore, it has been remade in France, Britain (as The Tunnel) and the USA. The overall budget is €30 million per year. Drama is in a very strong position when it comes to programming, and it is also doing very well online. SVT has produced various crime dramas, as well as mini-series and web drama series. Independent Swedish producers are increasingly efficient, particularly in regards to the international co-productions they have managed to handle. Thanks to the numerous slots that SVT has to fill, it can both order new seasons of successful shows and create new ones. Recently, Jordskott has come as a surprise, as the supernatural thriller seems to appeal to a broader audience than expected. The channel was stunned that such a hybrid show would appeal to both its traditionally older audience and younger viewers. In 2016, SVT intends to return to comedy in addition to more drama (but fewer crime) series.
The Danish TV landscape has changed significantly, due to the introduction of cable TV a few years ago. The Danish market is the only one in Europe with two public broadcasters, which represent a 50% market share. The leading channel is TV2, a state channel available on a subscription basis. Its budget for producing dramas is €7.5 million per year. TV2 has developed a distinctive identity with its productions, despite being a newer player on the market. When it became a subscription channel, it had to rethink its way of working and programming, and had to position itself against established public broadcaster DR. TV2 had problems finding partners at first, and had to recognise that the Danish market differs from the American one. How could they produce three crime series and three dramedies each year before finding enough writers for just one? First, they recruited writers and gave them ample creative freedom. Practice was crucial in order to increase output beyond one show per year. To attract Danish movie professionals, TV2 commissioned mini-series, as they were easier to schedule, and it distanced itself from crime shows. Rita, a dramedy about a very outspoken and rebellious teacher and single mother, premiered in 2012. The show did very well at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, and its third season has been aired and co-produced by Netflix.
BNT, the national broadcaster in Bulgaria, ranks third, behind two private channels, and its market share is a mere 7%. While BNT used to be the first (and only) channel in Bulgaria, everything changed five years ago with the introduction of private broadcasters. BNT had to make a huge shift in its programming, so to win back its audience, it decided to invest in a very popular show. The programming team hired investigative journalists, an independent producer and established Bulgarian professionals as consultants. Then, four years ago, BNT premiered Undercover (Pod Prikitie), an action-packed show set within the underground world of the Bulgarian mafia. Undercover has been a huge hit in Bulgaria, and more surprisingly, it has sold extremely well in no fewer than 142 territories, particularly in Latin America. Despite the international success, production budgets are still quite limited. BNT has €3 million per year for its entire production programme (dramas as well as feature films and documentaries), and Undercover costs (only) €150,000 per hour, product placement included! But BNT runs the biggest movie studios in Eastern Europe, welcoming many international productions. Bulgarian professionals, hired by big-budget foreign features, can then afford to work for lower rates on Bulgarian productions more easily. BNT has been running another very successful show lately, the political drama The Fourth Estate, which addresses the clash between those in power and the media. It sparked a huge debate in Bulgaria, especially when the government cut BNT’s budget because of the show! The company is currently discussing the opportunity to produce a new show with the team and cast of Undercover.