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How HBO, Streamer Intrigue and the Looming Writers’ Strike Stole the Show at Series Mania

Credit: S. Champeaux

The 2023 edition of Series Mania, which wraps on Friday, looks like it’s succeeded in solidifying its place as Europe’s premier TV festival.

The fest’s main competition was one of its strongest yet, and attendance at the industry-facing Series Mania Forum reached an all-time record of 3,800 delegates. Yet even Series Mania couldn’t escape the big-picture headwinds such as strikes and protests around France’s pension reform, nor the wider market turbulence as global streamers curb content investment around the world.

Streamers Pull Back in Europe?

One key concern among producers going into Series Mania was that global streamers may be pulling back from producing in Europe. But in fact, despite industry concerns over the financial health of streaming services, Netflix and Amazon aren’t stepping away from local content in key European markets: they and other streamers are simply becoming more cost-cautious and willing to split rights. First off, they’re required to: the European Commission has mandated streamers to invest a portion of their income on locally commissioned and acquired content. Secondly, they’ve realized that quality originals are good for branding and for driving subscriptions. “When you see the demand for local shows, it’s not surprising that we want to continue investing into that space,” Paramount+ executive VP Marco Nobili said at Series Mania.

The global streamers also also provided more specific detail about the kind of shows they’re looking for. Both Netflix and Amazon are chasing escapist fare. Amazon’s head of international originals James Farrell said the service is looking to do more comedy, romance and action in the veins of “Citadel,” the Russo Brothers’ spy thriller. Netflix, meanwhile, unveiled its slate of upcoming shows for France, the Nordics and Germany, a number of which are skewing young adult. These include Season 2 of the comedy series “Represent” and “Barracuda Queens.” Paramount+ is looking to grow local franchises, in the vein of “Los Enviados,” Nobili said.

France’s Civil Unrest Spills Over

As far as drama festivals go, Series Mania certainly experienced no end of drama this year, with France’s national protests hitting the festival in a big way. The protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform measures directly impacted the fest as protestors tried to storm the violet carpet, with anti-riot police called to maintain order. Meanwhile, delegates narrowly avoided police tear gas as protests turned violent in the Old Town. Many attendees ultimately had to leave the event a day early as nationwide rail strikes on Thursday saw numerous train cancellations.

Protesters stormed the Series Mania violet carpet on Tuesday.

Looming Writers’ Strike Could Impact International

The Series Mania Forum kicked off on the first day of negotiations between the Writers’ Guild of America and Hollywood studios, which hope to strike a new deal before the current writers’ contract expires on May 1, resulting in a strike. In our panel, Variety asked international TV distributors if they’re feeling the impact of a potential strike yet. “It certainly felt like a lot of U.S. buyers were planning for the strike at the London Screenings event a couple of weeks ago,” said Louise Pedersen, CEO of All3Media International. The executive said executives were eyeing a number of programming acquisitions out of the U.K. “so I suspect they’re doing a bit of research to put their backup lists together,” particularly if the studios lose an entire season, which some suspect could happen. While this could be a boon for sales into the U.S., what’s less clear is the impact on talent availability in Europe. U.K. writers, for example, are already in high demand. With studios clamouring for non-WGA members to pen shows, British writers could stand to benefit, much to the chagrin of producers.

Is HBO Sorting Out Its International Ops?

What a difference a year makes. The most memorable session at the festival’s 2022 edition was arguably the HBO Max Europe showcase, where commissioners laid out their ambitions for originals. Fast forward a year and that entire team has been restructured; Warner Bros. Discovery has vastly streamlined its European drama output; and it’s none other than HBO chief content officer Casey Bloys on Lille’s Grand Palais stage, admitting how disconnected the domestic and international teams used to be. In his keynote, Bloys said the domestic and international operation “didn’t have a lot of contact regarding programming” — a situation he’s trying to change in partnership with WBD international boss Gerhard Zeiler. Bloys kept mum on what their big plans for international are exactly, but it certainly sounds like David Zaslav is keen on a more joined-up, global operation, which could ultimately benefit producers.

'The Actor’ (Courtesy of Series Mania)

Series Mania Buzz Titles

In the build-up to prize announcements on Friday, main Competition buzz titles take in Iran’s brooding, superbly shot “The Actor,” Israel’s emotionally sweeping Second Intifada-set “Red Skies,” and family drama “Best Interests,” written by “Help” scribe Jack Thorne, which reduced some in a Lille audience to tears. Inviting comparisons with “Euphoria,” Greece’s “Milky Way” also had its fans. Outside competition, “Nolly” was embraced by a French press that knew nothing of British soap “Crossroads.” Of French series, “Bardot” sparked buzz and major sales, while “Unspoken” proved a highly popular Co-Pro Pitching Sessions winner.

Split Rights the Order of the Day

Citing the examples of “Bardot,” financed with Netflix, and “Drops of God,” co-produced with Apple TV+, France Televisions boss Delphine Ernotte said there is a “dialogue today with U.S. platforms that didn’t exist five years ago.” She said a “modus vivendi” is emerging between TV groups and streamers in Europe that benefits both parties.

Platforms are facing more competition in Europe, and increasingly understand that a partnership with a major TV network for first or second windows, after a series first launches, allows them to benefit from TV to widen an audience base. Taking “Drops of God” as an example, Ernotte said that partnering with Apple allowed France Televisions “to make it with more money [and] raise the playing field.”

TF1, France’s leading commercial network, teamed with Netflix on the period series “The Bonfire of Destiny” and “Les combattantes,” and is looking to do more going forward. In both cases, TF1 split rights with Netflix and co-financed.

‘Bardot’ (Credit: Thibault Grabherr – FTV – Federation)

Series Mania Expands Its Co-Production Drive

Unlike Mip-TV, Series Mania is not much of a sales market but rather a huge up-stream financing and co-production forum. With co-productions the order of the day, that only serves to make Series Mania even more of a must-attend event. Most co-production activity is, moreover, now highly structured by Series Mania itself, and proving massively popular. 450 projects from 66 countries applied for the Series Mania Forum’s centerpiece, its Co-Pro Pitching Sessions. Won by Kuosmanen and Cannes Camera d’Or laureate Cesar Díaz, new initiative Seriesmakers delivered what bids fair to become one of the most talent-packed project lineups at any festival this year.

Marketing: The New Hot Button Issue

Series Mania inaugurated a new focus on marketing as it becomes one of the most pressing questions facing the industry. “Doctor Who: Flux” won BBC Studios Creative Series Mania’s first Creative Campaign Award, while “Lupin” took a Jury Special Mention. A five-panel strand at the Forum debated ways for broadcasters and platforms to grab audience attention. For promotion purposes, “always try to get somebody in your show who has a lot of social media followers,” Kindle’s Melanie Stokes advised at a session on social media. “The A-List” benefitted from a highly active script editor who knew how to talk to fans, she added. Try to create dedicated content, added Tom Rouyrès at Instagram France. Here, public broadcasters may be at a disadvantage compared to streamers given restrictions on their use of TikTok or young performers’ filming themselves for promotion, panelists noted.

Brian Cox, Tomohisa Yamashita, Marcia Cross Lead Series Mania Star Power

“Succession” star Brian Cox elicited howls of laughter as he explained on stage why he was shot of the series, and why men are pathetic. He also underlined his support for half-Iranian wife Nicole Ansari-Cox’s expression of solidarity at Series Mania for the women of Iran. Elsewhere, “Drops of God” star Tomohisa Yamashita was friendly – “Call me Tomo,” he told the fest – and melted hearts at Lille, suggesting his emerging international star status. In another masterclass, “Desperate Housewives” star Marcia Cross proved enchanting and lamented Hollywood’s lack of parts for older women.

The Deals

With few big swings from streamers, Series Mania newsflow proved steady rather than spectacular:

*Paramount+ announced “Drag Race Italia” and reconfirmed a 2023 launch in India.

*Disney+ announced a new slate of projects for France, led by new series “The Children Are Kings, adapting a recent page-turner by author Delphine de Vigan.

*Len Blavatnik and Danny Cohen’s Access Entertainment, an A24 investor, boarded “Red Skies.”

*”Compartment No. 6” director Juho Kuosmanen unveiled his first series as a creator, “Yours, Margot.”

*The Mediapro Studio introduced “The Young Poe,” designed as its next big English-language franchise after “The Head.”

*Peter Chenin’s North Road Company will co-produce “Bad Boy,” from “Euphoria” creator Ron Leshem, at Series Mania with “Red Skies.”

*French series “Call My Agent!” is getting a Spanish-language remake, with Eva Longoria on board to produce and direct.

*”Grey’s Anatomy” star Giacomo Gianniotti is set for Netflix’s Italian adaptation of the “Gold Digger” TV series.

*Disney+ and Walter Presents took territories on “Mobile 101, a Nokia Story.”

*L.A.’s Upgrade Productions boarded “Volcano” Eco-Thriller, from Iceland’s Act 4 and Croatia’s DrugiPlan.

*Canal+ renewed banner series “Marie Antoinette” for a second season.

*“Snabba Cash” duo is re-teaming on “Cry Wolf,” starring Eliot Sumner, based on “The Bridge” creator Hans Rosenfeldt’s debut novel.

*At Series Mania with “Disobey,” Canada’s fast-rising Also Productions announced a fact-based geopolitical thriller “Chain Reaction.”

*”Shtisel” banner Yes Studios has boarded “Unsilenced,” about sexual violence in a political world.

Variety's John Hopewell, Manori Ravindran, and and Elsa Keslassy contributed to this post.

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