The pandemic has created a backlog of content. Broadcasters and streamers are scrabbling for shows. This is good news for content owners and distributors - if you follow the right strategy.
The landscape has irrevocably changed in the media industry. The current shortage of content is good news for the owners of intellectual property, whether it's a script, a pilot or an existing show.
Regional Streaming - how the studios are responding
Dealmaking 2.0 - new rules, new deals
Productions Resume - with new implications
New Opportunities - new conditions, new approach
Buyers from the major broadcasters and streamers are racing to sign up premium shows as Covid-induced delays manifest as gaps in their production schedules and reductions in available content on their platforms.
However, while there may be more opportunities, they are more complex. It's no longer correct to assume that a global deal with a big incumbent will deliver the best returns, particularly since the bigger studios are choosing to go direct-to-consumer on their own platforms.
"It's a real patchwork quilt now, and there is a lot more competition." Ruth Berry, MD, Global Distribution: ITV Studios
The new trend of regional streaming is a typical response. The Ridley Scott sci-fi series Raised by Wolves premiered on HBO Max in September, and at the time of writing is still regionally locked to USA viewers only.
ITV is starting to commission original content for its ITV Hub service, and is considering more co-production opportunities for its joint-venture with BBC on BritBox. This is based on the success of ITV originals like the 3-part mini-series Des, which averaged 12 million viewers, 2 million of which watched on-demand on ITV Hub.
Is this fragmentation good for the market? Netflix used to be the only kid on the block. Then came Amazon. This year saw three more big-hitters entering the fray: Disney+, AppleTV and HBO Max.
In Europe, BBC/ITV are ramping up content on BritBox, the Scandinavians are doing the same on Viaplay, France is about to launch Salto and similar trends are unfolding on Stan in Australia and a proliferation of platforms in China.
Dealmaking 2.0 How has this changed the way content is sold? Where once a deal with a big global streamer like Netflix or Amazon was seen as the golden ticket, it's now just one option, and maybe not the best one. Audiences that have become accustomed to VOD are becoming increasingly platform-agnostic.
"To access the broadest audience, we need to find the right home and partner, ensuring our content is front and centre, whether that's through our own D-to-C platform, or partnering with others." Paul Dempsey, BBC Studios Head of Global Distribution.
“There is certainly an increasing amount of competition from broadcasters who are teaming up to make bigger pan-regional offers,” says Ruth Berry, ITV Studios MD of global distribution.
This is good news for owners of the intellectual property of quality shows. Multiple buyers will compete more aggressively for quality content.
Producers and distributors are looking at more collaborative deals with multiple players to access the high-end production budgets that will allow them to compete against the big incumbents.
This new trend underlines the importance of owning intellectual property. Distributors are now investing at the soonest possible opportunity to secure their rights to product.
“We’re going into the US pitching at script stage with a (hopefully) exciting package of writer, director, producer and some key cast.” Matt Creasey, EVP of Sales, Acquisitions and Co-productions: Banijay Rights.
"There is an interesting array of VOD platforms that we can pitch to now," says Creasey. "That creates competition and gives us more opportunities and helps with the deal.”
These collaborative deals are usually more complex, but it does mean that distributors have more options for their projects, and more opportunities to finance their shows.
Amazon is responding by being less demanding. Fremantle financed and launched La Jauria, a Spanish crimi-series filmed in Chile, on Amazon Latin America only. The global streamer allowed Fremantle to sell the show to the rest of the world directly.
Productions Resume While the pandemic originally delayed production, many shows are now grinding back into gear. During the lull, writers and developers have also been busy, which means there's likely to be a burst of new content going into production.
As more of the big US studio producers consider leapfrogging traditional distribution mechanisms and going direct to consumer, the stage is set for a boom in content deals, done in an entirely new way.
New Opportunities "There are opportunities, as the streamers build out their new services. We will wait to see how this plays out in the coming two years," says Creasey.
"Many platforms have scrambled to find content now that their own pipeline has been impacted. Once this is up and running again, will these opportunities diminish? We are very optimistic, as we are platform-agnostic and can co-produce and sell content to anyone.”
What happens next depends ultimately on the viewer. The media industry in the post-pandemic world will be one in which there is more competition between buyers to acquire and deliver engaging shows.
Whether this new landscape results in sustainable profitability for broadcasters, streamers, distributors and producers - that remains to be seen.