Argentine film-TV publication Prensario International and Conecta Fiction joined forces to host a European drama focused panel at this year’s L.A. Virtual Screenings, recruiting leading production company executives from five countries to examine the challenges and opportunities their local industries are facing in a post-pandemic world, and reasons to be excited looking forward.
Geraldine Gonard, founder and director of Spain’s Conecta Fiction, moderated the roundtable, hosting representatives from five countries. Joining Gonard were Maria Valenzuela, senior VP of international strategy and business development at Buendía Estudios in Spain; Cristina Vaz Tome, CRO of Grupo Impresa in Portugal; Robert Franke, VP of drama at ZDF Enterprises; Nicola de Angelis, head of development and international co-productions at Fabula Pictures in Italy; and Nadia Rekhter-Gareva, development producer and head of international at Star Media in Russia.
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Angelis was the first to outline the biggest challenges facing relative newcomer Fabula, which recently produced Netflix’s Original Series “Zero” and is working on a second season.
“The greatest challenge is to understand audiences,” he said unequivocally. “They have changed drastically in recent years and what the whole market is in the process of learning to understand is what audiences want, and what audiences will accept after this long period we’ve just lived through.”
Portugal’s Grupo Impresa is already a market leader, and Vaz Tome pointed out that the challenges at the top aren’t that different from what smaller, independent producers face in their daily grind.
“The audience,” she said simply, echoing what others said and would continue to say throughout the roundtable. “How can you stay relevant as the leader and keep the audience you’ve already got, while also reaching new publics, mainly younger audiences? That is our biggest challenge.”
Vaz Tome was the first to bring up age demographics, but it was a theme present throughout not only the European roundtable, but the L.A. Virtual screenings at large. Several of the producers lamented the difficulties they faced in finding content that works with younger audiences, a demographic that streamers and linear broadcasters alike are clamoring to attract.
“From the Latin corner we are facing many of the same challenges as Nicola and Cristina,” conferred Valenzuela. “But I think there are many reasons to be happy. We are living in a very sweet moment where content is so relevant and during the pandemic people have streamed more minutes of content than ever and digitalization has moved forward.”
A main challenge for Valenzuela, whose Buendía Estudios was a producer on the international hit trans drama “Veneno,” is staying relevant as a fish in an ever-growing ocean of content. “The big problem is the volume of content out there and staying relevant. That has become a battle in many ways, and I think maybe it’s down to the IP you’re working with, and IP plays a much bigger role than it has in the past. Not only being able to bring a fantastic story, but one that looks like a fantastic story right from the beginning and captures eyeballs and the IP resonates with the audience.”
Representing another major player in his territory, ZDFE’s Franke explained that the in Germany, “Our biggest challenge at this moment is vertical integration of big corporations. We see a lot of movement in the market and big groups consolidating their effort by keeping the value chain within their own groups.”
He added: “In the past, as independent or smaller companies, we could still buy content or co-produce with whomever was out there. But now we see more and more producers are being absorbed by big channel groups or OTT platforms, and smaller distributors are being bought by bigger companies. It’s getting harder and harder for us to get a hold of interesting content.”
Franke also expressed frustration in the way that global players are locking down talent with multi-year, exclusive contracts in territories where they set up operations, massively disrupting established ecosystems.
Things have been a bit different in Eastern Europe however, where global players have only landed more recently.
“We see the challenges more as opportunities in our territories as we were waiting for the global players to come to our market for so long, that our local companies have started creating OTT platforms,” explained Rekhter-Gareva.
She went on to explain that with so many platforms commissioning so much content, it can be difficult to stand out. “We have around seven active players demanding regional content in Russia and it’s the same in Ukraine. The challenge is to be as creative as you can and find the best talent from our territory and find new and exciting co-productions and partners from around the world.”
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