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TELEVISION Europe

Walter Presents gives European drama series a home

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- The platform curated by Walter Iuzzolino presents premium-quality content from foreign countries

Walter Presents gives European drama series a home
Walter Iuzzolino, co-founder and curator of Walter Presents, and Christiane Siemen, Creative Europe MEDIA Desk Germany (© Jasper Ehrich Fotografie)

At the Filmfest Hamburg, the Creative Europe MEDIA Desk Germany invited Walter Iuzzolino for a talk about the video-on-demand platform Walter Presents, which focuses on European TV dramas from foreign countries. A former commissioning editor of Channel 4, Iuzzolino launched the service as an AVoD (ad-based video on demand) catch-up system in the UK in 2016. “It is all about premium-quality drama,” says Iuzzolino, the co-founder and curator of Walter Presents. “The idea is to get mainstream shows and to become the home of all unsellable international drama.” 

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Due to the foreign-language issue, many drama series are never released outside their home countries by traditional channels nor by big streaming services, such as Amazon, Netflix or Hulu. “In the UK, subtitles seemed to be snobbish,” Iuzzolino opines. “But viewers aren’t discouraged by watching shows with subtitles. Audiences just want a very good story.” In Italy, even the Italian drama Gomorrah is shown with subtitles owing to it being in the Neapolitan language, which is hard to understand for many Italians. 

For the launch of some shows, Walter Presents uses the power of traditional TV to promote them to a broader audience. If the first episode of a series gets a primetime premiere on Channel 4, for example, the show is promoted with trailers and a press campaign, while the entire series is available online via an AVoD catch-up system. In the UK, the platform features about 85 shows in total, which comes down to 1,000 hours of content. “In two-and-a-half years, we got 50 million streams,” says the co-founder of Walter Presents. As suggested by the term “AVoD”, the business model is based on advertising. “We have two commercial breaks in a half-hour show, and they are unskippable.” 

Meanwhile, Walter Presents is also available in the USA, Australia and Italy. In the States, it is offered via a monthly subscription model on an SVoD platform. “We also have a partnership with PBS,” says Iuzzolino. The launches of foreign-language dramas with subtitles are often promoted with premieres at various cultural centres in New York. In Australia, Walter Presents launched through the pay-TV service Foxtel in November 2017. In September 2018, Walter Presents had its first rollout in Italy, on Discovery’s Nove and Giallo linear networks. The entire catalogue of shows is available on its standalone Dplay streaming service, which is also supported by advertising. 

While platforms such as Amazon and Netflix are like big supermarkets with a plethora of products, Walter Presents is more like a small boutique. “We don’t want to have too many shows,” stresses Iuzzolino, who licenses about 300 hours per year. The curators launch three series a month and subcategorise them as crime-drama, political thrillers, historical content and comedies so that they are easy to navigate. “It is important that a very boutique-taste product doesn’t get lost on a big shelf in the supermarket, where it remains unsold,” the curator explains. “Our cheque is much smaller, but we champion a show and don’t use any algorithms.”

Thanks to Walter Presents, the French prison thriller Locked Up became a huge international success. “At that time, no one wanted to touch a female prison show. The consensus was that the only European shows that were working well were Scandinavian ones.” After being a big hit on Channel 4, Locked Up was sold to more than 60 countries. The shows in the Walter Presents collection also include programmes such as the German drama Deutschland ‘83 as well as the family saga Ride Upon the Storm by Adam Price, which was produced by ARTE FranceDR Drama and SAM Production.

In the long run, Walter Presents also aims to get involved in co-production. “We need four or five more countries for it to be meaningful enough to write a cheque for co-productions,” emphasises Iuzzolino, who is already preparing the next platform launch in another European country. “Our plan is to have six or seven new territories by the end of 2019.”

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