Lille Transatlantic Dialogues: A new international forum for series professionals
by Valerio Caruso
- Séries Mania launched the Lille Transatlantic Dialogues in cooperation with the CNC and the MEDIA programme; an overview of a full day of talks
Keynote speech by Orange CEO Stéphane Richard
According to Rodolphe Belmer, Séries Mania's president, the Lille Transatlantic Dialogues aim to bring together the main political, institutional, creative and economic players from the world of television and culture (from both Europe and the United States), for informal exchanges on the developments and challenges appearing on the horizon in the series sector. Television industry personalities will be invited to Lille each year to create an “informal club” of international decision-makers. In the words of Belmer, this forum should serve to “build an inspiring vision of the audiovisual of tomorrow”.
The Lille Transatlantic Dialogues started with a keynote speech by Orange's CEO, Stéphane Richard, who presented the point of view of a telecoms operator that has greatly benefited from the convergence between audiovisual and media.
Orange CEO Stéphane Richard
Heading an audiovisual giant operating in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Richard recognises that series are the flagship content of the digital world. “For operators like us, the new consumption patterns correspond perfectly to the digital world. With the dematerialisation of content and the explosion in consumption across all types of screens, we are witnessing a revolution in habits, and series are at the centre of this revolution. The 19 most-watched programmes out of 20 are series.” Long gone is the time when multiple series would be watched on the same television screen. In France, on average, there are seven connected screens per family being watched at the same time, which entails a strong fragmentation of images. Now there are new players and major platforms that, a few years ago, had a greater understanding than others that the digital world was bound to change this aspect of the audiovisual sector. Netflix is clearly a great success, according to Richard. With some regret, Richard recalls that Orange had a "French Netflix" project in partnership with TF1 and M6. However, this project did not come to fruition, because of the need for legislative changes that the regulatory authorities did not want to implement at the time.
The craze for series does not only have positive consequences for operators: some series require huge investments, budgets become inflated, and rights issues become more complicated. Bear in mind that a single episode of Game of Thrones costs $20 million to make.
Richard presented Orange's strategy for the years to come. First and foremost, Orange will remain a major distributor. "We want to offer all of our customers access to the widest possible range of content; series clearly have diverse things to offer, and Orange wants to capitalise on its distribution power," he said. Then, Orange will engage resolutely in strategic partnerships. "We have forged strong partnerships with major operators such as Canal+ and HBO; we want to combine technology and innovation, and our partnerships are structured in line with a long-term perspective." Orange is also a content publisher via Orange TV, which has now reached 3 million subscribers. "We recently launched Pickle TV, which is the meeting point between the world of TV and the internet, prioritising inventive and quality content. This new offering allows the user to consume unlimited-content channels wherever he or she is, using the medium he wants (smartphones, tablets, TV), when he wants, through an interface with no advertising." The last point of the strategy concerns production, with the development of Orange Studio. "We want to develop series; we will invest €100 million over the next three years. The first project has already been chosen: an adaptation of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose," concluded Richard.
Panel 1: The European series landscape
The first panel concerned the current landscape for European series. Gilles Fontaine, head of the Market Information and Financing department of the European Audiovisual Observatory, presented data on production in Europe and the United States.
Over 920 titles were produced in 2015 and 2016, accounting for over 11,100 hours. TV movies (with one or two parts) accounted for 44% of all titles, while series with more than 52 episodes per year accounted for 7% of titles but 60% of the hours produced. Series with between three and 13 episodes per year accounted for 41% of titles and 21% of hours produced. In 2017, the production volume of US series was close to 490 scripted shows. This growth has been driven by cable networks and online services.
The first panel held at the event
In Europe, the UK is the European leader in terms of both titles and hours, with 83 series produced and 441 hours of fiction. France follows close behind, with 69 series and 354 hours, then Germany (58 series and 369 hours), the Netherlands (32 series and 181 hours), Italy (19 series and 208 hours) and Spain (18 series and 195 hours). Public broadcasters are the leading instigators of TV series, in terms of both the number of titles (64%) and the number of hours (62%), while SVoD remains marginal.
Some interesting data relates to co-productions, as they account for only 8% of titles and 9% of hours. In comparison, 22% of feature-length fiction films are co-productions.
Following this presentation, Thomas Bourguignon, producer of the series Baron noir, aired on Canal+, and RAI executive Eleonora Andreatta gave their points of view on the progress of series in Europe, and presented their development strategies.
According to Andreatta, in Europe and especially in the USA, a saturation point has been reached in terms of the number of series that can be produced. Improvements can be made in the quality of the series, but not in the number of them produced. Andreatta noticed, as pointed out earlier by Stéphane Richard, that we are witnessing a significant increase in production costs in the face of stagnating and diminishing revenues.
Nevertheless, there are several positive aspects observable in the series landscape, the most significant one being that the US market is very interested in European content. Until recently, US studios used to buy formats, but now they are buying shows instead. Secondly, there is no need to have an English-language show in order to succeed. As Gomorrah proved, people prefer to listen to the original dialogue with subtitles, even if the words are spoken in archaic Neapolitan slang. Of course, English is essential for shows made specifically for the international arena or if they are made in co-production with another European partner. "RAI has a very good track record in adaptations. Our strength is linked to culture and literature," recalled Andreatta. "We developed two international series, one being The Medici and the other the adaptation of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. For The Medici, we hired two American writers, Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files and Man in the High Castle) and Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), and we mixed US, Italian and European talents in order to write the show. We took a big risk, and we invested more than usual. Spotnitz told us that the Renaissance per se was not enough to create a universal element, and we really needed a universal story. Frank came up with a very original, creative genre, mixing family, drama, thriller and noir," explains Andreatta. The break-even was reached after the broadcast in Italy, but the series has been sold well in more than 25 countries.
According to Andreatta, in previous years, it was easier to have globally focused events. Today, public broadcasters need to invest more, acquire prestige and try to interest a young audience. Working with a platform and on non-linear distribution is a must. The trend is to make fewer shows but make them more expensive. In previous years, RAI used to invest 30% of its production budget in TV movies and mini-series; today, this percentage has dropped to 9%, and investment in big series has increased dramatically. Andreatta confirmed Gilles Fontaine's data, which showed that co-productions with European partners are not yet fully developed. "As the shows tend to be global, the paradox is that it is easier to make a co-production with Netflix and HBO than with Europeans. But this equation will change, as shown by the agreement we signed recently with France Télévisions and ZDF."
Thomas Bourguignon commented on the evolution of European series, saying that the quality is obviously high, and that more and more European shows can compete seriously with Netflix and HBO series. Baron noir was the first political series aired on Canal+. Thomas recalled that this type of show is common in the English-speaking world. "I think these kinds of shows are very important for democracy and for public debate. We wanted to be realistic. People are interested in universal themes, such as global warming, corruption and the consequences of political actions on everyday life. Canal+ invested a lot of money, and we were really anxious about the perception of the series abroad. In the end, the show has been sold in many territories, mainly because France is viewed as the country of the Revolution, and people are interested in French politics," Bourguignon said.
As in the case of RAI, Bourguignon confirmed that the main challenge for French broadcasters was to re-conquer young audiences. The average audience for series is made up of people in their forties, while television watchers are in their sixties. Thomas also confirmed another issue mentioned by Andreatta: the costs of series are rising, and the way to finance them is to get increased minimum guarantees (MGs): the MG from the distributor can reach 20%, which is only recoupable in the long term.
Panel 2: How can women make a difference in the TV series industry?
The presence of women in the TV industry – as decision-makers or creators – has brought more diverse and complex female characters to television, earning several series prestigious awards and acclaim from international audiences. Are TV shows a way of raising awareness of gender equality in modern-day society?
The second panel held at the event
The panel attempted to answer this question with several panellists: Alessia Sonaglioni (European Women’s Audiovisual Network), Anna Croneman (head of Drama, SVT, Sweden), Veena Sud (showrunner, USA), Sarah Treem (showrunner, USA) and Caroline Benjo (producer, Haut et Court, France).
Alessia Sonaglioni, president of the European Women's Audiovisual Network, presented several studies on gender inequality in TV series. The Directors Guild of America's Episodic Television Diversity Report analysed more than 4,000 cable and TV episodes of 299 scripted series in the season 2015-2016. According to this report, women directed only 17% of all episodes.
Sonaglioni presented another study carried out by San Diego University. It shows that the proportion of male characters is higher than that of female characters in 68% of the series analysed. The percentage of female characters was the same in the years 2016-17 as it was in 2006-07, and thus no progress has been made in the last ten years. The study shows several gender stereotypes: female characters are always younger than men, women essentially play wives and mothers, and women are seen less frequently at work than they are actually working. In the years 2016 and 2017, women comprised 28% of all creators (directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and directors of photography) working on broadcast-network, cable and streaming programmes. According to a Variety article, which analysed 50 TV programmes in 2017, 90% of showrunners were white, and almost 80% were male.
Sonaglioni presented the data from a 2017 German study entitled "Audiovisual Diversity? Gender Representation in German Film and Television". Based on over 3,500 hours of German television programmes, the report shows that for every woman, two men are shown on screen. One-third of all programmes feature no female protagonists, and the women who do appear on screen are shown essentially in the context of relationships and partnerships. These data are confirmed by a French study conducted by the CSA (French audiovisual regulatory council) that shows that in the 26 series with the highest audience figures on the national French broadcaster in 2013, 38% of all characters were women, but only 4/13 were lead characters.
Caroline Benjo presented the “50/50 in 2020” initiative, whose mission is to create gender-balanced leadership in audiovisual organisations worldwide by the year 2020. "We have to do something; we need to act," asserted Benjo, insisting on the need to have data and an observatory to analyse the current situation and promote awareness in the public arena. "It is very sexy to become a feminist again," Benjo summed up.
A successful showrunner with a glittering career behind her, Veena Sud recalled some of the sexist jokes she had to endure as she started out in the industry: "The males played a game that consisted of asking of each woman character: who would you kill, who would you marry, and who would you make love to? That was extremely unpleasant, but mentalities are slowly changing," she said.
According to Sarah Treem, the other woman showrunner on the panel, women work well and they are better at creating female characters. "It is important to introduce diversity in our stories," Treem said. "The way a woman tells a story is different, and the construction itself is different. Women do not necessarily tell stories in a linear fashion. Women have to fight to impose their point of view; we need to have more confidence and trust," she concluded.
Panel 3: Copyright policy and cultural diversity in a global market
Fiction has lived through two major changes: the rise of TV series and the digital revolution. In this new environment, important questions arise concerning the future of copyright and creation: how to ensure a fair remuneration for authors? How to maintain a strong copyright protection and preserve the financing of culturally diverse creations? How to support the circulation of TV series and fictions?
This panel, moderated by SACD director Pascal Rogard, saw the participation of screenwriters Séverine Jacquet and Tony Grisoni, Doreen Boonekamp (CEO of the Netherlands Film Fund), and Nicolas Curien (president of the French audiovisual regulatory council).
According to Doreen Boonekamp, it is important to support writers and international co-productions. In the Netherlands, thanks to this policy, there has been a major shift. Whereas ten years ago, only 10% of audiovisual content was co-produced, today this proportion has risen to 70%. "We opened a rebate scheme that extended to TV series," Boonekamp announced. "We would like to go even further and get closer to the French system. We would like to make the SVoD operators, like Netflix, and the cable operators pay and contribute to national audiovisual creation," she said.
Talking about the future of the audiovisual market, Nicolas Curien insisted on the importance of the recent preliminary political agreement reached by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission regarding the main elements of the revised rules that will apply to audiovisual media across Europe (April 2018). The "country-of-origin principle" has been strengthened, providing more clarity on which member states' rules apply in each case. The revised directive will apply to user-generated videos shared on platforms such as Facebook, when providing audiovisual content is an essential function of the service. The quota for European audiovisual content on VoD and SVoD services will be raised to 30%.
Speaking about the future of the European audiovisual market, showrunner Tony Grisoni confirmed what many panellists had said before him: viewers are not frightened by very local content. The whole world was passionate about the series he wrote, Yorkshire, the English in which was incomprehensible – even to the Brits.
Screenwriter Séverine Jacquet talked about the ever-evolving work of a scriptwriter. "I was invited to visit the US studios," commented Jacquet. "I found that American and French creativity may be comparable, but the structure and organisation were incomparably superior in the United States. There, the audience comes before the author. The work of the writers is more rigidly framed: the scriptwriter’s entry into the editing room, for example, cannot be questioned, and nor can his remuneration," she added.
Keynote speech by Delphine Ernotte, president of France Télévisions
The Lille Transatlantic Dialogues were also an opportunity to listen to Delphine Ernotte, president of France Télévisions. She announced the strategic partnership between France Télévisions, RAI and ZDF. These three public broadcasters have joined forces to co-invest in a number of projects, with the ultimate aim being to support the creation of high-quality, original content within Europe. Ernotte said that this new partnership, dubbed Alliance, reflected an ambition to reach beyond national markets and compete with international players.
President of France Télévisions Delphine Ernotte
Consolidating resources within Europe will be essential in order to exert an influence on the international stage, and Ernotte noted that, when combined, European public broadcasters invest €14 billion annually in original programming, compared to the €7 billion spent by Netflix. Ernotte said that a long list of ventures is already under consideration by the new partners. As a flexible, project-driven organisation, Alliance has already agreed to co-invest in a TV series about the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. Alongside this eight-part series, two other projects funded by France Télévisions and RAI are also in the pipeline.
The members are also discussing the possible implementation of SVoD services. France Télévisions was planning to introduce its own SVoD portal in France in autumn 2017, but it postponed the launch and is now in talks to join forces with private national broadcasters and content providers to create a common French platform. "We have observed that 20% of the audience comes from catch-up TV. We have to work on non-linear solutions. We also want to work on local stories, as viewers are not only passionate about international content. In France, local series are performing very well."
Panel 4: Diverse together: New opportunities to reach international audiences with local content
While content is now accessible worldwide, figures show that audiences are particularly attached to local stories. In this age of globalisation, the challenge is to produce locally for an audience without borders. What are the many issues that arise due to this revolution in content? Moderated by Marjorie Paillon, the panel included The Oligarchs producer Alex Berger, HBO Europe’s EVP of Programming and Production, Antony Root, the BBC's director of Policy, Claire Sumner, and Yellow Bird producer Gudny Hummelvoll.
To present the new opportunities for reaching an international audience, Alex Berger presented the series The Bureau as a case study. The show provides an insider’s view of the DGSE, the French intelligence service, set against the backdrop of operations in Syria. According to Berger, the series has a distinctive filmic approach, in terms of its scripts and realistic shooting style. Berger believes that The Bureau represents an auteur approach to making TV series, following in the footsteps of US directors such as Steven Soderbergh. “We had conversations in the mid- to late 2000s about how mind-blowing and innovative it was to see film directors taking series to a whole new level. We were influenced by series coming from the States, such as The Wire and The Sopranos. We now understand that we need to create brands, as the public is getting more and more sophisticated. We have to win locally, and then go internationally," he concluded.
Claire Sumner insisted on the necessity to work with the authors at several stages of their careers, and develop a wide range of talents and an array of points of view. Confirming what Berger had just explained, Sumner said that it was crucial to reflect the diversity of the world in the stories, but that the stories have to work locally first. "Our lives are multi-national, so the shows also need to be multi-cultural, but anchored in a local context," Sumner commented.
The fourth panel held at the event
Antony Root explained how HBO approaches its work in Europe. "We tend to develop local programmes from local authors. In terms of genre, we are flexible. Of course, we want to make shows that are unique and reflect the HBO brand, which stands for authenticity, point of view and authorial voice." In Europe, HBO develops shows in original languages, with recognisable locations, situations and characters. In Central Europe, for example, HBO is producing original shows hinging on local authors, rather than importing formats. Some of the authors may end up working on international series in the USA.
Gudny Hummelvoll confirmed that the story is key for a good series. As many other panellists said during the day, she also remarked that series are travelling more and people are more open to watching content from other countries. "Some years ago, Norwegian people would never have watched a Swedish show," she said. "Now things are changing." As for trends, Hummelvoll is convinced that the Nordic countries will still produce Nordic noirs in the future, but that there is an increasing appetite for comedies and historical shows.
Finally, Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission, and the person in charge of the Digital Single Market, was also present at the Lille Transatlantic Dialogues, where he made an eagerly awaited speech. He rounded off the forum by presenting the Commission's strategy for a better circulation of European content.
Vice-President of the European Commission Andrus Ansip
"Access and licensing are the basic values of European culture, but this culture should not be stuck within national borders," Ansip insisted. The VP of the European Commission reminded those present that today, 67% of older films made in Europe are only shown in one country, and that the Commission's aim is to increase the exposure and circulation of artistic work in order to make it more widely available online – legally – and to a broader audience across Europe. A wider circulation will open up new opportunities for creators and the content industry. Creative and cultural industries account for 4.2% of Europe’s GDP; they are the EU’s third-largest employer, providing nearly seven million jobs. "The dominance of digital channels for culture means that we must urgently improve the situation for fair remuneration in Europe," Ansip continued. "We are facing the sensitive issue of the ‘value gap’. This is one of several concepts that have just been discussed by the European Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. Here I am fighting for creators. I want to see all rights holders, artists, publishers and authors in a stronger and fairer position for negotiating with influential players, such as digital platforms."
The Commissioner proposes simplifying licensing procedures for certain types of content, according to the country-of-origin principle: broadcasters could make content available online in another country based on the clearance of national rights. Licence fees would take all services and procedures into account, including differentiated audience and language versions, so that creators would be paid properly. In addition, many programmes that can only be accessed in one EU country would get the chance to reach audiences in others.
"I am pleased to say that last week, we had a political breakthrough on the main elements of the revised rules of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. The new rules will encourage innovative services and promotion of European films, while protecting children and fighting against racism and discrimination in a more efficient way," Ansip concluded.
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