Kicking off the contentious double bill of industry events in beautiful Budapest last month was the long-established NATPE. With a new kid arriving on the block the following week in the form of Content LA, the pressure was on for the stalwart event to prove its worth.
The market was a little slow to pick up on the Tuesday, and the conference line-up felt slight. But once the floor filled up, the market appeared to be in great health, with lots of those we spoke to being booked up back-to-back. Also great for networking was the famous NATPE boat party, which this year took to the Danube properly for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
As was to be expected, given the huge success of Turkish telenovelas around Central and Eastern Europe, the likes of ATV, Kanal D, Madd Entertainment, Inter Medya and Acun Medya had large presences and plenty of marketing cash invested at the event. The other attendees ranged from giants like Sony, Warner Bros, All3Media, Fremantle, Mediawan and Cineflix, to dozens of smaller players from around the world.
As expected though, two thirds of the buyers in attendance were locals from Central and Eastern Europe. With budgets in that part of the world especially tight right now, ’selectivity’ was a theme. Whether that be taking a risk averse approach in selecting what to pick up, or inversely taking those (calculated) risks on fresh ideas to stand out from the crowd. Buyers we spoke to were facing really tough decisions over where they would place their bets.
It was also great to see the amount of blossoming creativity from the region, even with purse strings tight. Especially impressive was seeing fun-filled Polish adventure reality format Camper, which sees social media stars hit the road in camper vans while competing in challenges, triumph in the ‘Pitch and Play’ competition. It had brilliant competition in the form of Ukrainian fact ent series Scarman – which saw people tell the harrowing stories of how they received scars, before transforming them into something positive with a meaningful tattoo, and ingenious Estonian quiz show 15 Questions – which allows contestants to pick between scoring bigger points with a meagre clue, or taking a better clue and scoring lower.
Fast forward a week and K7 was back in the Hungarian capital, with a different team, for Content Budapest. Touted as a ‘next generation content industry event’, we were joined by a concentrated number of execs keen to see how the events differed, some of whom had spent the weekend in Budapest in order to check out what Content Budapest had to offer. And on the whole, it didn’t disappoint…
Much less of a conventional content marketplace, Content Budapest instead positioned itself as a place to talk openly about the current state of the industry in the region and to build partnerships across CEE and beyond. As such the conference agenda was robust, with a diverse array of panels and presentations offering up insights on everything from pan-regional platforms and the encroaching FAST players to K7’s very own session on top travelling format trends.
Conversations on the commissioning front naturally turned to co-production within the region. However, much of it came with a degree of hesitancy due to the significant barrier posed by cultural diversity. With viewing preferences intimately tied to each country’s unique cultural heritage and history, it’s often difficult to find common cultural ground and commissioners simply aren’t ready to tackle some of the compromises co-production requires.
Nevertheless, there were promising signs of progress, with talk of a CEE-wide co-production body taking shape and a Baltic umbrella organisation being formalised to facilitate cooperation between territories. These discussions were enriched by successful examples of co-production in the past, like the acclaimed Polish/Czech/Ukrainian series The Pleasure Principle. There was also great emphasis on using creative collaboration as a way to bring teams together from different countries to work on different aspects of a single production in order to stimulate the co-production sector.
As with NATPE, the pressing issue of financing larger series was a theme that resonated throughout Content Budapest with producers actively seeking partners, even unconventional ones, to help cover the rising costs of production. Although industry giants like Netflix and HBO Max were sometimes blamed for inflating expenses in the region, they are now seen as viable partners, even by some public broadcasters in attendance. In exchange for their deep pockets, these global players gain access to valuable insights into local talent and audience appetites – a crucial advantage in navigating such a diverse territory. As one executive aptly put it, “as everything becomes more global, the local becomes even more relevant.”
As for the ‘Battle for Budapest’ itself, it’s safe to say there wasn’t a great deal of positivity about the two competing events running back to back. Some were forced to pick and choose between the two, missing out on meetings in the process. Of those attending both, some headed home in-between for a couple of days break from the Hungarian capital, while others who travelled from the Americas opted for a near fortnight stay in the city. We even heard examples of attendees mistakenly thinking NATPE had rebranded the event only to discover once tickets had been purchased that there were in fact two separate events going on!
Interestingly, there was some talk of Content Budapest being retooled next year as a conference to run parallel with the more market-focused NATPE – similar to how Content LA sat alongside the LA Screenings this year. Either way, not many expected both events to return in the same fashion next year…