A few years ago, the rise of the international co-production was the talk of the industry, as higher costs combined with digital distribution to create a climate in which partnering with production companies in other countries no longer just made sense, but was often a necessity. Such arrangements are now the norm, but the demand for more and more high end drama, often built around A-list stars or valuable IP, has meant the financial pressures have intensified rather than easing.
Enter the Super Partnerships, as a flurry of announcements has heralded the arrival of large funding groups or joint ventures created to feed this market for blue chip drama that can be sold globally. The big announcement out of MIPTV was the launch of Atrium TV, a “commissioning club” led by Sir Howard Stringer, former Sony chairman, Jeremy Fox from DRG and MTG’s Jakob Mejlhede. This group will take in member organisations in a strictly rationed way – only one per territory. Those who pay into the pot for drama projects selected by Atrium’s London and LA scouts, then get exclusive regional rights to the fruits of the labour.
A flurry of announcements has heralded the arrival of large funding groups or joint ventures created to feed this market for blue chip drama that can be sold globally.
In terms of production muscle, that’s already an impressive team to have in your corner, and with a remit to seek out high end drama with a $5m per episode price tag, it makes sense to spread those costs as far around the world as possible.
Similar, though somewhat less nakedly entrepreneurial in spirit is The Drama Investment Partnership, set up by BBC Worldwide and Sébastien Raybaud’s Anton Corp. Again, the idea is to identify, fund and nurture drama projects for the top end of the market. This time the pool is limited to British drama, albeit with international potential, but with a reported £150m to spend on its slate, production companies will be fighting to get the attention of the partnership.
It seems that generous drama funds come in threes, since Sky and HBO have now announced their own production partnership. The two have a close working relationship already, both being well established in US-UK co-production as well as pan-European development, and have put up a $250m development budget to support suitably attractive drama pitches.
Big brands, big names, big money. This is the reality of mainstream TV drama production in 2017.
And then there are the smaller but no less notable partnerships announced this month. FremantleMedia has taken a stake in Bend It, the production company set up by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) to push into television development. Meanwhile ITV has joined with fast-growing US indie studio Blumhouse, putting up a 45% investment in the Blumhouse TV division, with a small screen spin-off from the cult hit movie series The Purge its first project.
Big brands, big names, big money. This is the reality of mainstream TV drama production in 2017, where not only do new shows look like movies, with bankable actors and cinematic shots, they also require comparable budgets. While there will always be a market for mid-range projects, the stakes have never been higher at the top end of the industry.