London TV Screenings Bets on Escapism and ‘Elevated Mainstream,’ While Unscripted and Long-Running Franchises Continue to Grow: ‘We Want to Entertain You’

Enough with the winter gloom: Feel-good shows are about to take over TV market London Screenings, as distributors echo Russell Crowe’s Maximus iconic words: “Are you not entertained?”

“Most platforms are looking for entertaining shows. Escapism is a big thing,” says Fremantle International CEO Jens Richter.

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“You want to take the audience somewhere else and make sure they forget about their reality for a minute. ‘We want to entertain you.’ That’s the headline, basically.”

Beta Group’s chief distribution officer Oliver Bachert agrees – in a world challenged by many conflicts, watching something “accessible and easy” feels more appealing than ever.

“We see things that are maybe not that ambitious, but they work as entertainment. A bit of blue sky helps us deal with everyday news. Even up north, Nordic Noir just got lighter.”

Crime and thrillers are still “major export genres,” notices Rachel Glaister of All3Media International, but buyers are looking for other narratives too. Such as Berlinale Series Selects’ proposition “Lost Boys and Fairies,” about a gay couple deciding to adopt a child, or comedic “Boarders,” soon heading to SeriesMania.

“It’s a show with substance but also humor. Several deals are under discussion.”

Apart from crowd-pleasing stories, buyers can also expect more unscripted content in lineups.

“It’s a major trend for all the major U.K. distributors,” says Glaister, while Richter teases a new docuseries about Elizabeth Taylor. Kim Kardashian is set to executive produce.

“She is a huge fan and we have her in the show as well. We need to think about reaching the viewers, not just producing great shows,” he observes, teasing Fremantle’s “big fat catalogue with lots of new titles.”

One that includes “Costeria” about an ex-military helping people in paradise – “It’s ‘The White Lotus’ meets ‘Magnum P.I.,’” he says – and “Nightsleeper” featuring Joe Cole.

“When it was Peak TV and we had all these platforms launching in new territories, it was about ‘premium’ content: Shows that would get great reviews and provoke discussions. Now, we aim for ‘elevated mainstream’,” he says.

“The key currency is traffic. Buyers think: ‘How many people can I reach with this show?’ With something like ‘Nightsleeper,’ it’s easy: There is a train, people in peril and action. It’s very commercial.”

While Beta Film will present “Maxima” – about the life of Queen Maxima of the Netherlands – and “Rise of the Raven,” produced by Robert Lantos (“Crimes of the Future”) and advertised as “one of the most epic Central European TV productions of all time,” one thing remains clear: Nobody wants to overspend.

“Everyone seems to be rediscovering the concept of cost-efficiency. The budget doesn’t solve everything: a good story will find its audience regardless,” notes Bachert.

“Three, four years ago, each platform needed global rights in perpetuity. Now, they want to save on their budget too. Another big thing is windowing, a concept as old as TV itself and we are going back to it too,” adds Richter, mentioning another trend to look out for: Long-running franchises.

“It could be a drama, a cooking show or an entertainment format. At a time when you have so many platforms competing, it’s important to give the audience some guidance. If you have a big brand that’s already established in your territory, you should take extra care of it.”

While London Screenings has been steadily growing – with 29 distributors signed up to showcase this year – it’s crucial to keep it streamlined, says Glaister. All3Media International founded the event alongside Banijay, Fremantle and ITV Studios.

“We do ask that new companies respect each other’s time regarding [possible] clashes, but they are becoming inevitable. Still, it’s positive that so many wish to attend. This year, we are running scripted and unscripted, and format upfronts in around 3 hours. It’s lean and effective.”

Bachert echoes: “It feels very efficient, it’s true, because everyone is at one place and sees things at the same time. Let’s see how it develops, but it’s already one of the places to be in that first part of the year.”

While London Screenings  “grew dramatically and beautifully” over the last couple of years, says Richter, the focus is still on screenings, not meetings.

“We don’t pitch shows that are going to be produced a year from now. We give a real, clear impression of what’s coming now. We tried bringing a sofa on stage and talking about shows that are not even in production, but it’s very clear: These buyers prefer screenings.”

“It’s the spring event of absolute global relevance.”

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