As is always the case, last season was a mixed bag for the networks. For every hit (like Empire and How To Get Away With Murder), there were shows that should have rated far better than they did (Gotham) and those that more or less stumbled out of the gate before falling into an early grave (Selfie, The McCarthys, Mulaney).
The domestic performance of shows does have a knock on effect on international sales. So now that the season is over, just how many of the new series from the 2014-2015 season did well enough to score UK sales. Especially after the 2014 LA Screenings, where UK buyers were not particularly blown away and emerged with a more or less collective shrug at the new crop of shows
To get an answer, TVWise breaks down the 2014-2015 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.
The 2014-2015 broadcast season saw the five broadcast networks in the US (ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC) order some 48 new series (not included in that total is the four shows – 20th’s Hieroglyph and NBCU’s Mission Control, Emerald City and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – that were cancelled before making it to air or in the case of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, pulled from the market after it became a Netflix original).
At the time of TVWise’s half-time report back in April, some 17 of those series had been sold to UK broadcasters, so now that the season is well and truly over and we’re well into 2015-2016, has there been any movement? In short, yes. Since April a surprising seven series (Secrets & Lies, Battle Creek, Backstrom, The Last Man On Earth, Aquarius and The Slap) have scored late sales, while the one new summer series (Zoo) also landed a UK deal.
All told, some 25 of the 48 new series have reached the UK, accounting for a sell through rate of 52%. While year-to-year comparisons are a little specious given the cyclical nature of scripted acquisitions and a move towards more local commissioning at several major broadcasters, that is down slightly from last season (25 for 2014-2015 vs 27 for 2013-2014); though a smaller number of series comprising this past season (48 for 2014-2015 vs 54 for 2013-2014) does positively skew the sell through rate.
So who did the most business? There were no major surprises on the broadcaster side of things, with Sky once again leading the pack, acquiring some six new series (The Flash, Forever and Zoo for Sky1; Madam Secretary and Stalker for Sky Living; and Aquarius for Sky Atlantic), accounting for 24% of completed sales. Channel 5 was close behind having acquired four new series (CSI: Cyber, Gotham and NCIS: New Orleans for the main channel; and procedural The Mysteries Of Laura for 5USA), representing 16% of completed sales.
FOX UK and Channel 4 were close behind, with each having acquired three series (Backstrom, Marvel’s Agent Carter and Wayward Pines for FOX UK; and Empire, Jane The Virgin and Marry Me for C4), accounting for 12% of completed sales apiece. ITV, UKTV and Universal Channel each acquired two new series (Scorpion and Gracepoint for ITV; Secrets & Lies and The Last Man On Earth for UKTV; and Battle Creek and How To Get Away With Murder for Universal Channel), accounting for 8% of completed sales apiece. Trailing behind with only one new acquisition each was Lifetime UK (The Slap), BBC Two (American Odyssey) and Amazon Prime (Constantine), accounting for 4% apiece. Comedy Central UK and Netflix UK did not up any new series from the 2014-2015 season.
On the distributor side of the equation, the major studios did good business with CBS Studios International and Warner Bros. International Television Distribution both selling six new series into the UK. Right behind was Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution and ABC’s international sales arm Disney Media Distribution who secured three sales each. Sony Pictures Television managed to sell their entire slate of new broadcaster series into the UK, but it’s worth nothing that said slate consisted of only two series. Finally, NBCUniversal International Distribution scored two UK sales.
The independent distributors did nearly as well. ITV Studios Global Entertainment was able to secure a pan-European deal with Sky for NBC’s David Duchovny fronted Aquarius; while Endemol Shine International also quickly secured a deal for Gracepoint with ITV, who put the Broadchurch adaptation on pay channel ITV Encore. On the flip side of that, MGM was not able to secure any interest in their The Bible follow-up AD: The Bible Continues.
A notable trend in the acquisitions market this past season is the dearth of comedy sales, with only three new comedies reaching the UK (though one of those – Jane The Virgin – was initially shopped at the LA Screenings as a drama). That’s not to say that UK buyers are not looking for U.S. comedy, but the inability of the networks/studios to churn out guaranteed hits has soured UK buyers on going in too early for fear they are picking up one season wonders.
As Comedy Central UK’s (just promoted) Director of Acquisitions Brad Wood told TVWise earlier this year, “comedy has been in a weird place for the last few years now. Of the twenty shows we screened in 2014 in LA only five got second seasons and only one of them, The Last Man On Earth, has a UK home right now and I think that says a lot. So I think you have got to be really careful when you’re spending that sort of money on launching these unknown brands in the UK”.
That is what prompted Comedy Central UK to steer clear of the new crop of shows from the 2014-2015 season entirely and instead invest in longer running comedies Bob’s Burgers and Undateable, both of which are “at volume”. It seems to be a sentiment that is shared across the board, with E4 only swooping for The Goldbergs after it was renewed for a second season (now heading into its third) and insiders at Disney Media Distribution are saying that they are only now in “serious talks” with a UK buyer to pick up Black-ish, after it too was renewed state-side by ABC.
On the drama side, as had been widely expected, the big comic book shows, The Flash and Gotham, faced zero hurdles in reaching the UK, especially as there was fierce bidding on both. The growing trend of limited/event series state-side did not hurt business with both Wayward Pines and The Slap also finding UK homes, in fact the deal for Wayward Pines was closed before the LA Screenings even got underway last year.
Equally, those shows that drove the most interest at the screenings – such as How To Get Away With Murder, Forever, NCIS: New Orleans, CSI: Cyber, Stalker and Scorpion – quickly scored UK sales. While not a standout in LA, Fox’s Gracepoint quickly found a UK home on ITV Encore. As ITV’s Sasha Breslau, who acquired the series from Endemol Shine International, told TVWise, that was due in no small part to the fact that it was “a remake of one of our most successful ever dramas and we wouldn’t have wanted that going on a competitor channel”.
It was the 2014-2015 season more than any other in recent memory that resulted in a lot of late deals. One was very reactionary, with E4 only swooping for Empire after seeing its strong ratings in the U.S. (it has performed quite well for the C4 owned diginet, but given the hefty price Fox charged for the rights perhaps not quite well enough). Some of these late deals (Marvel’s Agent Carter, Aquarius and Secrets & Lies) had been in the works for a while and just took some time to close. One was down to the fact it was a summer show (Zoo), while a couple (notably Battle Creek and Backstrom) were “opportunistic deals” in cases where the UK buyers in question liked the shows, but only swooped post cancellation knowing they could get a more favorable deal, especially when it comes to licence fee.
There were a number of series that were “left on the field”, with still no UK buyers attached, despite the fact that they were received well at the LA Screenings. Notable examples include State Of Affairs, which had been expected to land at Sky; and “diverse comedies” Fresh Off The Boat, Black-ish and Cristela. I hear that execs at the satcaster decided not to pick up State Of Affairs, feeling that Madam Secretary was the “better show” with “very similar” themes. Deals for the comedies are still possible (and in the case of Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat extremely likely) in the months ahead.
Now that UK broadcasters are all but done with the 2014-2015 season, all eyes turn to the wealth of content coming from the upcoming season. There have already been a fair number of deals. Sky has snapped up The Muppets and Supergirl for Sky1; and Limitless, The Catch and Blindspot for Sky Living. While UKTV has acquired Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Quantico and Code Black; Amazon just agreed a deal for Lucifer; and Channel 4 has secured Scream Queens, Rush Hour and Containment for E4. There’s no sign of things slowing down just yet, either, as there are three further shows closing in on UK sales (more on that later).