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Conference Report: TV Series Now

Ib Bondebjerg reports from Creative Europe Denmarks/DFI’s TV Series Now seminar at the Danish Film Institute, June 18, 2015.

TV seminarTV drama is often characterised as ‘the new black’, and certainly there is a strong creative industry focus on TV drama series in the contemporary European media culture. Drama series from US cable and online players have changed the television landscape, leading to a rise in quality, while Scandinavian and other European high quality drama series have found a new global audience. For some time now, the traditional American TV-drama series are being ousted from European prime time and replaced by national or European series.

This was part of the reason the Danish Film Institute and Creative Europe Denmark held, on June 18, 2015, an international seminar with the title TV Series Now – Production, sales, programming and the fine art of negotiating remake rights. In his opening welcome, Claus Ladegaard, the Head of production and development at The Danish Film Institute, noted this creative challenge from TV drama to film and also the increased creative connections between the two.

A European TV success story

In his overview of the state of European TV drama, Ib Bondebjerg from the MeCETES Copenhagen team demonstrated that if we take data from all channels and all fiction programmes (TV films, TV-series, soap operas, animation cinema films and short films) sent between 2006-2013 we still see a structural pattern not unlike the cinemas. On average American fiction products count for 61% of content, national for 17% and non-national European for 22% (Lange and Rovi Internationa: Fiction on European TV Channels 2006-2013. Strasbourg: European Audiovisual Observatory).

But if we focus on just TV-series and measure the difference between Public Service Broadcasting (PBS) channels and commercial channels we see a quite different pattern. Based on data from 57 channels in Europe in 11 countries, the average regional share of broadcast time for non-European content (mainly US) is 46 %, for national content 33% and for non-national European content 21%. The PSB channels in these 11 European Countries show 70% of the total amount of non-national European TV-series, so PSB channels are crucial for the circulation of European TV-drama.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the success of Scandinavian TV-series, and this is certainly a strong part and sign of the success. Small nations manage to get their products out to between 100-200 territories – a so far unheard success. But even though this is a fact, we also have a pattern with the usual big five European producing countries, and in television three of those are very dominant: UK (52%), Germany (16%) and France (11%).

The hard data across Europe speak of a European TV success story. Other speakers further developed this theme. In the panel ‘France, Land of Plenty?’ Caroline Benjo from the production company Haut et Court and Arnaud Figaret from Capa Drama demonstrated the new vitality of the French TV-production culture. With international success productions like the thriller-horror drama The Returned or the high end historical drama Versailles. Production companies all over Europe are moving more and more into different forms of transnational co-production.

Sales and distribution

Versailles1

Versailles (2015 – ): high-end French historical drama

In a following panel on ‘TV-sales and distribution’ Helene Aurø from DR Sales and International, Jan de Clerq from Lumiere Belgium and Carole Scotta from Haut et Court (FR) took the seminar participants inside the sales world with clear examples of how sales and distribution of European content is really changing right now.

In the panel on ‘The Fine art of Negotiating Remakes, the Swedish producer of The Bridge, Lars Blomgren (Filmlance) started by stressing the amazing fact the up to 80% of the content in prime time in Europe is local content, even though we see a strong rise in co-production. The Bridge – in many ways a very Swedish-Danish product has nevertheless traveled widely, and he also talked about remakes and how you negotiate that.

Another interesting panel was about ‘TV-slots and formats in Scandinavia and Germany’ with Piv Bernth from Danish DR, Hanne Palmqvist from Swedish SVT, Ivar Køhn from Norwegian NRK and Tasja Abel from ZDF. The debate was interesting as a transnational, European debate between four broadcasters that have a long track record in co-producing. It is very positive that despite the present challenges to PSB television in Europe, prime time slots for original TV-drama have a strong position in these countries, and international distribution is really developing.

In the final presentation the Finnish CEO of Nordic Film and Television Fund looked into the Nordic future pointing to new trends. One of his predictions was that the strong trend of Nordic Noir would continue but move towards more political issues also. Since it has always been a part of the Nordic drama genes to relate to social, cultural and ethical issues in contemporary society, he also predicted that Nordic Green would take a prominent place side by side with Nordic Noir: the environmental issue is ripe for TV drama.

The Creative Europe Denmark and DFI seminar on TV-series was an interesting timely event that underlines the new transnational mentality in European film and television. We can co-produce and still tell stories that have a local authenticity, and we seem to move in the direction of also more transnational stories. Our stories also seem to travel much more. So despite the challenges from globalization and digitalisation, the changing of the game and new platforms, the attacks on PSB television in many countries – maybe there is hope for a strong, creative Europe.

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