Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

New normal for non-scripted

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast December 01, 2016

Price inflation in drama could be spreading

There has been talk recently about the TV drama bubble popping – but for now it’s just getting bigger and bigger.

Budgets are rising: six years ago, £800,000 per hour was broadly the norm for a UK drama, now it can be more like £3m an hour for top-end series.

The driver is Netflix, which is able to spend large amounts because it is tapping global audiences. The SVoD player will spend a stunning $14bn (£11bn) on content over the next two years, much of it on drama series – the ultimate in binge-viewing content.

Amazon is also gearing up on drama, such as new series Goliath starring Billy Bob Thornton and William Hurt, as well as children’s and factual programmes, with The Grand Tour leading the way.

“The economic model has changed,” says Endemol Shine UK chief executive Richard Johnston. “There is global money to make a hit and UK broadcasters are reacting accordingly.”

Of course, the international co-production model has been around for years, but there has been a focus shift. Instead of starting with a UK version and then adding the international markets, there is a push now to create an international version first. The money is being pulled principally from the US – as is the case for Kudos’ Humans, which is a co-production between AMC and Channel 4. Another example is The Young Pope, an Italian co-pro with Sky, HBO and Canal Plus.

For Endemol Shine, the drama shift has been enormous. In 2016, it produced 88 shows/series in the UK, of which 26 were dramas, including some with Netflix (Black Mirror), Amazon (Ripper Street) and broadcasters ABC and Sky Atlantic (Guerilla, a co-pro between the two). By contrast, Endemol Shine produced 15 dramas in 2015; three years ago, it produced just four.

So where’s the problem? Drama is hot, and even ITN Productions revealed this week that one of its next moves could be into fact-based drama.

The problem is that not only do UK broadcasters need to keep pace with the global digital giants’ deep pockets, but also beware the risk of creating the TV version of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, as Sky Vision managing director Jane Millichip has warned.

In short, more money is needed to keep pace with the ‘new normal’ of higher drama prices being driven by global appetites for big-name talent pieces and lush, complex sets.

Where does this money come from? Co-pros, cash from brands, maybe even private equity. Innovation is needed in the financing as well as the creative.

It’s a drama-first world at the moment, but there are rumblings that non-scripted may be in for the same treatment. Not only are both Netflix and Amazon looking at non-scripted more closely, but ITV has said it is keen to “reinvent Saturday night”. “A non-scripted hit remains the biggest prize of all,” says Johnston.

But finding a breakthrough non-scripted hit like Big Brother or MasterChef has proved hard. The big ones – Strictly and I’m A Celebrity – still bring in audiences of 10 million, but they are older shows.

Maybe Shine TV’s Hunted – debuting as a US format on CBS, immediately after an NFL championship game on 22 January – will be a touchdown.

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