Last month, K7 attended the sixth edition of Serial Killer, the Central and Eastern Europe-focused scripted TV festival. Taking place across the Czech Republic’s picturesque second city of Brno, the event featured both an industry get-together and public screenings.
As usual, the cozy-feeling event’s professional section had a boutique, open vibe – it felt like many in attendance could be a little more honest than at bigger events. As some powerhouse event strands in the TV calendar continue to face turbulence, we’ve enjoyed seeing the brilliant rise of a number of smaller and more focused festivals and markets. Here’s what went down at the festival this year.
Finland’s streaming success in focus
This year’s country of focus was Finland, with much of the Thursday schedule seeing various Yle execs imparting wisdom about how to build a successful platform in a smaller territory with relatively limited funds. Major recent streaming successes in focus included LGBTQ+ teen series Limbo – which through partnerships with Finland’s content creators and influencers has become a youth phenomenon – scoring more than 3 million impressions on TikTok and a rabid young fanbase.
Indeed, touted was the world-envied success of Yle’s Areena on demand service. Between TV and radio content, Areena is by some margin the most popular streaming service in the country – tripling the reach of nearest competitor Netflix. Scripted is by far the most popular genre on the platform. Sports-based series are trending hard right now, and we saw this in Brno too, with shows like 70s-set motorcycle racing drama Ride Out and youth figure skating series Spiral also highlighted (among other sporting dramas) during the Finns’ sessions.
Czech true crime takes top prize
This year, the Serial Killer competition jury (including our own Clare Thompson!) unanimously decided to award the festival’s main prize to The Markovic Method: Hojer – a Czech true crime series with a strong local flavour but wide international appeal. With really fine cinematography, direction and beautifully handled historical reconstruction it built a world and atmosphere very effectively.
Despite being, on the face of it, ‘another true crime show’, it also managed to avoid cliches, with an unexpectedly likeable and content central character, and many funny moments of light relief. Serial Killer’s first Czech winner, the series comes from the prestige drama-heavy Voyo platform, but could sit very comfortably on any quality international streamer.
Antony Root calls for regional alliance, ‘less but bigger’ series
British producer Antony Root sat down in discussion with festival founder Kamila Zlatušková. Formerly of the BBC, Working Title and Sony Pictures TV International, Root worked from 2011 to 2023 as Head of Original Production for HBO Europe and HBO Max EMEA – overseeing the commissioning and production of more than 1000 episodes. With notable CEE drama series including Blinded by the Lights and Spy/Master (a contender for the main prize this year at the festival) being among that number, Root gave perspective on how the region’s storytellers could continue to advance:
Root called for ‘less but bigger’ stories, each with enough identity to make a big splash – ‘If you can make every show you release some kind of event, you will win that big audience’. Root also implored CEE’s splintered local broadcasters to follow the successful Scandi model of co-financing and co-commissioning to pool resources and make the most of the region’s close culturally ties. Root though predicted CEE’s drama output would soon find more international fans as writers and directors born in the post-Soviet era, ‘who don’t carry the baggage of the past’, take the creative reigns and begin to tell more global stories.
AI, networking and StudioCanal come to CEE
As ever, the Serial Killer industry programme was packed and varied, and with most panels and sessions averaging out at only around 20 minutes, the pace was snappy and invigorating. Covered was everything from hot topics like AI, to co-production, and even a lively session looking to give attendees some tips on networking, just in time for Wednesday evening’s cocktails! Meanwhile, following disheartening news like HBO pulling out of commissioning in CEE (among other European markets), Canal+ at the event unveiled their new plans to commission Czech and Slovak series.
Our festival trends ‘big and bold’, sports and subculture
K7 also participated in the TV Days industry programme, continuing the now yearly tradition of telling Serial Killer attendees all about the latest scripted and unscripted trends. Head of Drama and Insight, Richard O’Meara, delivered the scripted session (pictured). Chiming with Root’s ‘less and bigger’ comment, the session this year focused on how series need to be ‘big and bold’ to stand out in this era of peak competition for eyeballs.
Themes covered included bold genre hybrids – which following the success of inventive mashups like Squid Game and The White Lotus, standout as unique through combining tropes from different genres of drama. We also covered the new and exciting varieties of IP being adapted for TV of late – magazine articles, stage shows, Korean webtoons and video games. Also spotlighted were series retelling true stories from the world of sports (as covered in the Finnish spotlight), and based on exciting local subcultures.
Our other festival highlights
Other highlights from the main competition included highly amusing satirical Slovak sitcom The Winner, which paints a comic picture of the difficulties of adjusting to life after being Prime Minister. While many of the audience clearly enjoyed its timely references to local politics, it’s a show we could easily see travelling more widely as a scripted format.
Meanwhile The Stroke (Poland) had shades of The Bear in its story of a bad tempered food critic confronting his demons and difficult relationships after a massive stroke. A satire on the Polish artistic elite, it’s a bravely original series but an uncomfortable watch, with a host of unlikeable characters and painfully visceral moments of the stroke itself. Two series, the Ukrainian Bot Farm and Lithuanian Troll Farm, tackled the misinformation wars with dark stories of online manipulation, while the stylish Spy/ Master takes us inside the Cold War spy games of Ceaușescu’s Romania.