Four Key Trends in European Series Production Identified at Series Mania: ‘Streaming Is Changing the Topography of Production in Europe’

A panel moderated by the European Audiovisual Observatory at Series Mania Tuesday looked at four key trends in series production in Europe.

Warning Signs?
Gilles Fontaine, EAO’s head of department for market information, said there were warning signs of a downward trend in the number of seasons being produced, first in the U.S. and now, possibly, in Europe.

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According to figures from FX Content Research, after steady growth in the number of seasons in the U.S. since 2015, when it stood at 422 seasons, to 2022, when it peaked at 600, last year the number slumped to 516. Fontaine asked: Was it a short-term impact of the strikes or the start of a longer downturn? In European, meanwhile, the number of seasons grew from 426 in 2015 to 873 in 2022, according to EAO figures.

Pandora Gagnon Da Cunha Teles, a producer from Ukbar Filmes in Portugal, who is vice-president of the European Producers Club, said the picture was mixed and some signs were contradictory. Although in some countries, like Poland, Germany and the Nordic countries, there were signs of a contraction, in others, such as France and Portugal, and other countries that have implemented the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which obliges investment by the streamers in local production, there are signs of an opposite trend with a boosting in production levels.

When asked if she was alarmed by the prospect of a downturn, Lucia Recalde, head of unit for the audiovisual industry and media support program of the European Commission’s Creative Europe Media program, posed another question: “Were the levels of production of the last years sustainable?” She responded: “Maybe not.”

She said the amount of time for a person to consume all the professionally produced content available on the streaming platforms was 350 years.

“That is the level of competition that all the media companies are facing today in the so-called attention economy,” she said. “We see that the streamers are more cautious when it comes to investment decisions because the main criterion is not subscription base, it is profitability. We also see that broadcasters, who are still the main commissioners in Europe, are suffering from a loss in advertising revenue.”

She said this could be taken as a warning of an adjustment in the market. “The question is: How we get prepared for that?,” she said.

Winners and Losers
The second trend was addressed under the banner “Winners and Losers,” which compared shows commissioned by broadcasters and those ordered by streamers, and showed “strong difference” between the two, Fontaine said, with broadcasters backing local content more strongly.

Streamers tend to concentrate their largesse on fewer countries, with the winners including producers in Spain and the U.K., followed by France and Italy, then Sweden and Poland, with Germany, the Benelux countries and the rest of Europe faring less well.

“Streaming is changing the topography of production in Europe,” Fontaine said.

Recalde said that the challenge was to move toward truly European shows, while Gagnon Da Cunha Teles said that the key was to identify stories that can travel across the world, benefiting from the global distribution the streamers have built.

How Strong Is the Industry?
The third trend to be discussed was posed under the banner “How Strong Is the Industry?”

Fontaine said that despite news that suggested growing consolidation of the production market, research suggested that the market was still quite diverse.

The large broadcasting groups still only generate around 30% of total hours of production while independent companies are responsible for the rest, with smaller independent companies supplying 56%.

Newcomers to the sector are also a sizeable force, suggesting a healthy turnover. The number of producers producing their first series represented 43% of all producers and 20% of total hours. The share of production hours produced by the top 10 producers is not increasing, Fontaine said.

“There are signs of consolidation, but it is still a very diverse landscape,” he said.

Gagnon Da Cunha Teles said that the key to creating sustainable businesses lay in generating sufficient profits that can be invested in the development of new shows and to cashflow new projects. “It should be remembered that more than half the shows that producers develop don’t go into production,” she said.

Gagnon Da Cunha Teles and Recalde both underscored the need for production companies to build a catalog of IP, retaining the right, and develop a portfolio of series in order to attract private investors to the sector.

Enough Co-Productions?
The fourth trend was presented under the banner “Enough Co-Productions?” Fontaine observed that the number of co-production in TV series was not growing and was still far less than in film. The number of co-productions between countries that shared the same language, for example Germany and Austria, was falling, while the number of truly international co-production are growing.

Gagnon Da Cunha Teles said that she had learned a great deal through co-producing, including “Operación Marea Negra,” Amazon Prime Video’s first Portuguese-Spanish co-production. However, she added that in TV there was a need to move quickly and sometimes the procedures that governed production incentives slowed the process. “We need a lighter system,” she said. She also underscored the need to find stories that would work in the different markets.

Recalde appealed for a wider concept of collaboration than merely co-production, to include co-writing and co-develop for example, and extend it “upstream and downstream.” “We need to speak less about co-productions, and more about collaborations, collaborations that happen at the writing stage, the development stage and the co-production stage, and also – why not? – at the distribution and promotion stage.”

The session was moderated by Susanne Nikoltchev, executive director of European Audiovisual Observatory, with Fontaine.

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