The major British distributors and Hollywood studios are preparing for an onslaught of international TV buyers with hundreds descending on London and Liverpool, hopefully with their wellington boots at the ready, to snap up the latest scripted gems.
Later this week, around 700 buyers are expected to hit the UK for the start of BBC Showcase, the annual programming bonanza held in Liverpool. The event, which runs Sunday 18 February to Wednesday 21 February in the home of The Beatles, will see a raft of U.S. tech giants, including Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix, joined by traditional broadcasters and local SVOD players alongside A-list British talent such as Idris Elba, Steve Coogan and new Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker.
Paul Dempsey, President Global Markets, BBC Worldwide tells Deadline that the company has “pushed it a bit further this year” and expects more new customers than ever before. A big claim, given that the event has run for more than 40 years. While he accepts that the sale of finished programs, such as natural history titles like Serengeti and Dynasty as well as new dramas including Nicola Walker-fronted The Split (below), is still the biggest part of its business, it is being forced to become more of a “match-maker” of creative conversations.
“There’s quite a lot of creative dialogue that’s happening much earlier in the cycle so we offer access to the producers, writers and talent,” he says. He adds that BBCW plays an important role in persuading linear broadcasters to enter these conversations earlier so as not to risk losing out to the digital players, many of which are taking global rights.
Dempsey added that it’s business as usual at the global division, despite merging with its sister production arm BBC Studios in April. Any changes as a result of the merger, if there are any, may become apparent at next year’s event.
However, while BBCW may entice the international buyers over, the firm’s rivals, both other UK distributors and the Hollywood studios and mini-majors have become wise to the hundreds of buyers on their home-turf and have been stepping up their own activities.
U.S. firms including Disney, Lionsgate, eOne and MGM have arranged high-profile screenings the following week alongside British companies including ITV Studios Global Entertainment, All3Media International, FremantleMedia International, Sky Vision, Cineflix Rights and Passion Distribution.
This year is the third year that The Walking Dead distributor eOne has held a drama screening day in London. President of Distribution Stuart Baxter says: “The timing of this is good for us because a lot of decisions are being made at this time of year.”
eOne is focusing on two titles; Canadian procedural The Detail, starring 90210’s Shenae Grimes-Beech (left) and ABC’s Nathan Fillion-fronted “light” crime drama The Rookie.
The former Castle star will be in attendance at the event alongside Mark Gordon, who produces the show, and recently took over as President and Chief Content Officer at eOne after the company acquired the remaining 49% of his eponymous production company. Gordon is expected to give buyers a sneak peek into its development slate, which includes titles such as a television adaptation of Ruth Ware’s psychological mystery The Lying Game, as well as its forthcoming film slate, after eOne merged its TV and film sales arms.
“One of the biggest things at the moment is the co-production buzz. Traditional international broadcasters are conscious that the digital platforms are getting in on shows at an early stage so they have to as well,” he adds.
Ruth Berry, Managing Director of ITV Studios Global Entertainment, agrees that distributors need to get the buyers more involved in their development slates as the global competition for A-list projects intensifies. In addition to discussing British dramas such as adaptations of Vanity Fair and War of the Worlds, both produced by Poldark producer Mammoth Screen, ITVSGE will be shining a light on its rapidly expanding U.S. drama slate, which includes Tomorrow Studios projects such as a remake of The Oracle Year from comic book writer Charles Soule and a series based on thriller novel The Chemist by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.
The commercial arm of the British broadcaster will also be highlighting its breadth of non-English language content with screenings of Spanish mystery drama Félix, commissioned by Movistar+, and Danish/Swedish/German co-pro Greyzone (above), about the events leading up to a terrorist attack. ITV has been aggressively stepping up its investment in European drama labels, backing firms including France’s Tetra Media Studios, Gomorrah producer Cattleya and Apple Tree Productions, the firm set up by Piv Bernth and Lars Hermann. The Killing commissioner will be in London to share her first few projects. “It’s important to get into buyers’ minds at the start of the year,” adds Berry.
Elsewhere, All3Media International, FremantleMedia International, Sky Vision and Lionsgate will also be hoping to get into buyers’ minds.
The former is expecting around 200 buyers to screen and discuss shows such as Neal Street Productions’ BBC One/Amazon cop drama Informer, Studio Lambert’s sci-fi thriller The Feed, Australian detective drama Mystery Road and Kate Beckinsale-fronted mystery drama The Widow. It will also feature interviews with the cast and crew behind series such as Hulu and Channel 4’s The Bisexual, written by Iranian-American filmmaker Desiree Akhavan (right) and Ruth Wilson’s BBC and PBS drama Mrs Wilson.
RTL-owned FremantleMedia International is shopping European dramas such as Wildside’s The Miracle, HBO and Rai Italy’s Elena Ferrante adaptation My Brilliant Friend, British comedy The Hang Up, which a Stephen Mangan-fronted remake of Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy, and History’s The Breach: Inside the Impeachment of Bill Clinton, from War Room director RJ Cutler.
Sky Vision will be hoping to persuade buyers to sign up to Idris Elba’s comedy In The Long Run, loosely based on his own upbringing, Australian military drama Fighting Season, starring Beauty and the Beast’s Jay Ryan and the second season of Sick Note, starring Lindsay Lohan alongside Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint. Lionsgate, meanwhile, will be showcasing its relationship with sibling Starz with series such as half-hour drama Sweetbitter, produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B, Veronica Osorio and Melissa Barrera’s Latino comedy Vida and true crime documentary series Wrong Man, exec produced by Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster director Joe Berlinger.
As Wrong Man highlights, it’s not just drama being screened over the next two weeks, many of the companies will be highlighting their forthcoming factual slates and entertainment offerings such as ITV Studios’ Formats Festival, which will see it explain shows such as the smash hit return of Dancing On Ice and Love Island-style competition format Survival of the Fittest, which launched this week with contestants including Danny Dyer’s daughter Dani Dyer (below).
Tinopolis-owned Passion Distribution will be parading three new formats at a fancy cocktail event at The Ivy Club, which Chief Executive Emmanuelle Namiech hopes will be a “mix of business and pleasure” and “slightly more glamourous than a booth in Liverpool”. It will be looking for local format deals for shows including Car Vs America, a North South-produced road trip format for Fusion, Dancing with the Stars-meets-Ladette to Lady-style C5 format Bad Teen To Ballroom Queen and Canadian wedding format Where To, I Do.
Finally, The Walt Disney Company will be in town, screening a mix of midseason shows from ABC Studios as well as its first international commission. It will screening episodes of Steve Zahn-fronted refugee sci-fi thriller The Crossing, Stacy McKee’s firefighting Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Station 19 (below) and Shonda Rhimes’ legal drama For The People as well as Hulu’s Marvel drama Runaways, Freeform’s forthcoming mermaid drama Siren and teen superhero series Cloak & Dagger. SVP, Media Distribution Mark Endemaño, who oversees all TV sales outside of North America, says: “The networks and the studios are starting to do more year-round programming so we have a lot to talk about at the moment.”
It will also be premiering Harrow, an Australian detective drama starring Ioan Gruffudd. The show, which will air on local public broadcaster ABC, is the first global order for ABC Studios International, set up by former casting chief Keli Lee and is produced in association with Hoodlum Entertainment. Endemaño says that it’s complementary to its US fare. “It’s a procedural with a dark comedic twist and filmed in Brisbane, it has a glamorous international feel.”
All of the distributors will be hoping that London has a similarly glamorous international feel over the next two weeks to encourage buyers to start shopping.
16 Feb – ITV Studios Formats Festival / MGM
18 Feb – BBC Showcase
19 Feb – BBC Showcase
20 Feb – BBC Showcase
21 Feb – BBC Showcase / Passion Distribution / ITV Studios Drama Festival
22 Feb – eOne Drama Preview / All3Media Drama / Sky Vision / Lionsgate / Disney
23 Feb – FremantleMedia International / Lionsgate