TVWise breaks down the 2013-2014 broadcast season and takes a look at how many shows made it to the UK, what the key trends were, and who did the most business – on both the broadcaster and distributor side of the equation.
May 2013. California. The sun was out and shining as the annual influx of buyers from around the world hit Hollywood and headed to the various lots for the LA Screenings. Particular attention was paid to the swathe of buyers representing every major UK broadcaster, from the BBC to Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, UKTV, Universal Networks International and, yes, even Netflix.
As TVWise previously reported, the 2013 LA Screenings were interesting as it was the first in a couple of years where the buyers emerged at the end of the week with a sense of palpable excitement. They had just seen the best that the studios had to offer and an expectation was laid down: the upcoming (2013-2014) season would benefit from a greater volume of international sales.
That was an assumption that, as far as it goes, turned out to be correct. The 2013-2014 season saw a whopping 54 scripted broadcast series hit the marketplace from both major studios and independent distributors, such as Sierra/Engine and Lionsgate. Of those series, 27 secured UK deals, accounting for a sell through rate of 50%.
Stacked up against the 2012-2013 season, that is up in terms of total sales (27 for 2013-2014 vs 20 for 2012-2013); though the higher number of series comprising this past season (54 for 2013-2014 vs 39 for 2012-2013) does negatively skew the sell through rate. That being said, it’s worth remembering, as I’ve noted in the past, that year-to-year comparisons of this sort are a little specious and should be taken with a grain of salt.
The shows that did land UK sales were, by and large, dramas, with very few comedies breaking through. Most of those dramas were ones that were driving interest before the screenings, such as SHIELD, The Blacklist and Hostages. Another key entry was 24: Live Another Day, which went to the franchise’s long time UK home: Sky1. Science-fiction also did particularly well last season, with entries such as Resurrection, Almost Human, The 100 and The Tomorrow People all quickly securing UK deals – with two of those triggering bidding wars between rival broadcasters.
The comedies that did breakthrough were not the ones that many observers had expected to. UK buyers shunned so-called “new classics” The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves The World and The Crazy Ones (though there was talk of a UK deal at Comedy Central after Robin Williams’ tragic death) for the likes of Mom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Millers.
In fact comedy was an interesting one to watch this past season. As is the nightmare of many an acquisitions executive, those shows that did relatively well in the UK, did not do as well in the US and were cancelled after only one season (most notably Friends With Better Lives). And the lack of patience of US networks when it comes to new shows also had an effect on UK deals for two comedies; with Channel 5 backing out of a deal for Us & Them after it was cancelled by Fox, and Comedy Central UK doing the same thing with CBS’ We Are Men.
When it comes to the international distributors, no major studio was able to best CBS Studios International’s achievement from last season, when they lined up UK deals for every single broadcast show they were shopping. Warner Bros. International Television Distribution came closest – securing deals for seven of their ten shows, marking the second year in a row that they sold the most inventory to the UK (which is perhaps a given as they are one of the most successful and prolific studios on the TV side of the business).
Following close behind WBITD is Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution who managed 5 sales. NBCUniversal International Television Distribution, Disney Media Distribution and CBS Studios International secured four sales apiece (though CBSSI did strike two separate deals for Extant). Trailing behind was Sony Pictures Television with 2 sales and Lionsgate with only one. Sierra/Engine, who were shopping Crossbones and The Black Box, did not secure any UK deals.
On the broadcaster side of things, Sky once again tops the list, but unlike previous seasons, the satcaster finds itself in joint position as the most active buyer of new series alongside Channel 4 and UKTV – all three of whom acquired 5 series (24: Live Another Day, About A Boy, Intelligence, Star-Crossed and The Blacklist for Sky; Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hostages, The 100, The Tomorrow People and Brooklyn Nine-Nine for Channel 4; and Resurrection, Reckless, Crisis, Almost Human and Believe for UKTV), accounting for 19% of completed sales apiece.
Channel 5 and Universal Networks International were fairly active as well, snapping up three series (Betrayal, Ironside and Chicago PD for Channel 5; and The Originals, Sleepy Hollow and Rake for UNI), which accounted for 10.5% of completed sales apiece. Following just behind was ITV and Comedy Central, who both acquired only two new series (Dads and Mom for ITV; and The Millers and Friends With Better Lives for Comedy Central), representing 7% of sales each. Meanwhile, Amazon UK and Lifetime both got skin in the game for the first time, with one acquisition for each (Extant for Amazon; and Rosemary’s Baby for Lifetime), equalling 4% of completed sales apiece.
Of particular note here is UKTV, who leapt to the top position as a very active buyer of premium US content out of the LA Screenings. Over the past two years, TVWise has often cited UKTV as one to watch, and I recently penned an editorial declaring that the commercial network is now a major player with the US studios, able to compete with Channel 4 and Sky – something which the facts clearly bears me out on. Securing some very high profile entries, such as two of JJ Abrams new shows (Believe and Almost Human), was a major coup for UKTV and demonstrates how seriously they are taking their pledge to bring exclusive content to their audience.
It seems clear that the 2013-2014 season did lead to that bump in sales that many had expected and by all accounts UK buyers are pretty much done with this crop of shows (I wouldn’t rule out a deal for The Crazy Ones though). So now all attention turns to the current 2014-2015 season. Deals have been happening, especially for major shows, but slower than many had predicted. Cable has also made a resurgence over broadcast when it comes to acquisitions in recent months (more on that later). But will the sales surge from 2013-2014 lead to depressed sales this year?