A palpable sense of excitement has settled upon the English capital’s TV community as the London Screenings prepares to welcome hundreds of buyers next week.
With optimism over the future of Covid-19 and restrictions now virtually all at an end, senior sources say the number of buyers coming from mainly Europe, the U.S. and Australia is exceeding expectations from when the event was first being planned late last year, at a time when Omicron was raging.
“A few weeks ago, the organizers were thinking ‘Oh shit’ but now everyone is excited,” one senior distribution source states plainly. “It’s a snowball effect. When buyers realize the competition is coming, they all want to come.”
The Screenings are organized by a quintet of some of the world’s biggest distributors and are taking place from Monday February 28.
All3Media International, Banijay Rights, ITV Studios, eOne and Fremantle will each host a separate event for buyers, while several smaller distributors such a Passion Distribution, Cineflix and BossaNova also host screenings and there are a wealth of networking opportunities and cocktail parties in the diary.
Deadline can reveal that eOne is the only one of five main distributors to be hosting an all-virtual event, with a set of bespoke virtual presentations tailored to buyers in London and around the world.
A separate BBC Studios Showcase is taking place virtually in the earlier part of next week. This Showcase gave birth to the Screenings around four years ago, as rival distributors were having informal meetings with buyers during the Showcase and wanted to formalize these meetings into a week-long event.
Ruth Berry, ITV Studios’ Managing Director, Global Distribution, predicts attendance numbers will be at pre-Covid levels and anticipates “hundreds of buyers” attending the distributor’s drama and non-scripted showcases on Wednesday at The Odeon, Leicester Square.
“The timing is just perfect,” she tells Deadline, flagging the increased number of Australian and U.S. players than previously expected. “People are still responding positively now to our invitations. As various restrictions lift in countries around the world, buyers feel ready to travel.”
Fremantle International CEO Jens Richter describes the Screenings as the “big kick-off for the whole year’s events calendar,” as he gears up to present a vast slate featuring mainly premium drama and factual during a hybrid physical/virtual session at the newly-renovated BAFTA Building next Friday.
While distributors used to hold shows back and then pitch them to buyers once a season, Richter considers how the Screenings reflect the new methods of distribution, selling shows all year round to satisfy the streaming revolution.
“Platforms aren’t driven by shelf space or advertising seasons anymore so you have to attract your audience 24/7, ” he adds, while praising this year’s edition for attracting more non-European buyers than normal.
Newly-merged Banijay Rights will spotlight shows from its monster-slate of plus-120,000 hours at BAFTA on Wednesday and CEO Cathy Payne is looking forward to the distributor’s plus-100 staff being together for the first time since the merger with Endemol.
For Payne and Berry, the Screenings demonstrate how the major players can collaborate without being governed by an outside organization, which makes the event stand out from the likes of Mip TV.
“There’s no point pretending our clients aren’t talking to the competition so collaborating feels like the best way of doing it,” says Berry.
No single distributor rules the roost when it comes to the Screenings and Payne says the quintet met early to avoid conflicts or clashes.
“We all have our own businesses and are obviously mindful that we can’t share commercial information but on the practical, sensible things it’s great to collaborate,” she says, when we meet in a London café a fortnight before the Screenings is due to start.
“There is no official organization. This is a proper collaboration between distributors who then reach out to the smaller players.”
One such player is Tinopolis-owned Passion Distribution, whose showcase will take place several hours after Banijay’s at the Century Club, followed by a networking event.
Nick Tanner, Head of Sales and Co-Productions, says Passion is “placing lots of emphasis on making the Screenings a launchpad for 2022.”
“It’s a fantastic marketing platform and gives us a chance to show the exemplars of what we’re trying to do this year,” he adds.
All interviewees also point to the need to take a hybrid approach, after last year’s Screenings took place completely online, and each major distributor is also putting on online-only events.
With certain travel restrictions still in place, participants understand that some potential buyers will want to see their catalogs in depth without making the trip.
“We’re in all-new territory here,” adds Berry. “We prepared ‘virtual’ and ‘in-person’ scenarios and up until a few weeks ago were still having the ‘Do we go or do we not go?’ conversations.”
Slates and trends
Although few buyers from the streamers will be present, the outsized impact of Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and the newer SVoD players will be felt at the Screenings.
Payne, Berry and Richter spot opportunities as linear buyers have access to less content from the larger U.S. studios, who are busy warehousing content for their own nascent streaming services.
“So there is big demand for big tentpole formats and dramas that can be adapted for different markets,” says Payne. “The UK has always been a breeding ground for scripted and factual entertainment formats and now linear buyers are expanding their catch-up services into fully-fledged VoD offerings, giving us the opportunity to rework our catalogs.”
Banijay is set to introduce buyers to two yet-to-be-announced big entertainment shows, one of which is coming from the U.S., while updating on tentpole formats such as MasterChef, Lego Masters and Big Brother, all of which have been selling plentifully.
On the scripted side, the outfit is pushing Steven Knight’s BBC double SAS: Rogue Heroes and Peaky Blinders, along with ITV’s Riches.
Berry’s ITV Studios outfit is also aiming to take advantage of the U.S. studios’ warehousing strategy by pushing U.S. fare such as Snowpiercer and animation Ten Year Old Tom to linear buyers.
“Global streamers are feeling more local than ever by pushing into different markets and so the competition is strong,” says Berry.
Meanwhile, ITV Studios has a drama slate helmed by the trio of Litvinienko, The Suspect and the highly-anticipated remake of The Ipcress File, along with international dramas including Murder in Provence and The Dry.
The Screenings also present a landmark opportunity for ITV Studios to push Plimsoll Productions’ A Year On Planet Earth, ITV’s first foray into premium natural history. It has been several years in the making and Berry says these lengthy lead times have been a learning curve for when the distributor should pitch the show to clients.
Fremantle’s Richter says traditional broadcasters are fully focused on their streaming offerings and need more than just schedule fillers.
“The quality level of production is only going up,” he adds. “Two years ago we were selling premium productions to Netflix and Amazon but now we have so many more to look at.”
For Fremantle, BBC One’s Martin Freeman-starring drama The Responder and Sky’s highly anticipated This Sceptred Isle, in which Kenneth Branagh plays UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, sit atop the sales agenda, alongside a slate of premium docs including Sky’s high-end fashion series Kingdom of Dreams and entertainment shows
Premium docs is where Richter sees the landscape heading, as more buyers spend money on a genre that used to appeal almost solely to Netflix. “These shows sit on the same shelf as premium drama now. They are expensive but important for the economics of the platforms we are pitching to,” he says.
The smaller distributors are also aboard the premium docs train and Passion is spotlighting Discovery+’s live true crime access series Killing in Paradise.
“Now is the time to innovate,” says Tanner. “These shows aren’t retrospective, they are forward-looking and interesting to buyers.”
Dating-formats-with-a-twist are also on the agenda, with Passion shopping BBC Three’s Love in the Flesh and Channel 4’s Open and Fremantle pushing Parental Guidance, Dating Like the Stars and Better Than Ever.
Passion is also able to present itself as a “content partner as well as distributor”, which has been its strategy for some time, and Tanner believes is crucial in the modern landscape.
“The distributor’s evolution has sped up for many factors and so you have to support producers by investing in their content,” he adds.
After a two-year period that has seen some of the industry’s darkest days, the stage is set and the TV events calendar is kicking off for 2022.
Hopes are high that the Screenings can signal a new era, combining the beloved pre-Covid networking days of old with new ways of working.