European drama activity is booming and Red Arrow Studios International (RASI) is using its privileged position to strengthen its reputation as a key supplier of some of the region’s best stories. Owned by ProSiebenSat.1 Media, with sister production companies under the umbrella of Red Arrow Studios and trusted relationships with talented producers around the world, Red Arrow Studios International has rolled out local language tariffs as Stella Blómkvist, English-speaking co-pros like Blood of Vienna and more to broadcasters and platforms around the world. Rodrigo Herrera Ibarguengoytia, senior director of acquisitions and co-productions for scripts at Red Arrow Studios International, speaks with Weekly TV drama on the latest trends in theater.
TV drama: What changes have you observed in the European dramatic landscape over the past year?
IBARGUENGOYTIA: The expansion of streamers has remained constant, and that’s the key. Regional European streamers have continued to grow and many have ambitions to branch out into other territories, as we have seen with Viaplay, for example. As such, they have become major players, offering more funding power with a certain flexibility. The advantage for us is that these local services are multi-territorial, not global, which still allows us to build different funding models and to set up diversified partnerships such as a combination of linear broadcaster and streamer.
Some of our upcoming dramas have benefited from this flexibility. For example, Stella Blómkvist, which Sagafilm produced for Síminn (Iceland) and Viaplay (Sweden), has a second season. Then there’s our new launch Blackout: Tomorrow is too late, an ambitious new thriller produced by Wiedemann & Berg for Joyn and ProSieben, another example of a local streamer partnering with a linear channel to fund premium content. By using models like this we are able to produce great series that compete internationally and make a difference in the market.
Over the past year, since everyone was at home, there was a lot more content consumption, and as a result, broadcasters think differently about commissions and acquisitions. Rather than ordering and acquiring for specific niches, it’s more about finding shows that interest them and then determining the best business plan for that show in their portfolio of services.
Finally, a lot of projects have been developed over the past year, but everyone has been limited in terms of what they can put into production, so there is massive competition in the market right now. This is just the situation that everyone is facing.
TV drama: I imagine the studios and talent are full, considering the delays last year. Is it difficult to get things into production now?
IBARGUENGOYTIA: He is; there is always this bottleneck of productions that have been delayed. They are the first in line. In addition, broadcasters are still grappling with the financial impact [of Covid-19] and reduced content budgets accordingly. It’s a challenge to put all the pieces together.
TV drama: How will the new local content quotas for streamers impact your business?IBARGUENGOYTIA: Everyone is watching the conversations around British content closely. It could be a big change. Apart from that, there are always individual projects that end up on the wrong side of quotas and struggle accordingly. For us, this represents a window of opportunity because it offers a strong incentive to develop and commission local European content and to explore collaborations across territories in order to be able to finance this content. Red Arrow is well placed to take advantage of this because although our business is global, we are first and foremost a European partner. The majority of our recent and upcoming scripted titles are considered European, including Blackout: Tomorrow is too late, Stella Blómkvist, Dignity, The banking hacker and Blood of Vienna. Blood of Vienna-which has a second season [now]- is a good example because it shows the importance of flexibility and alternative financing models that can be put in place. If the UK has ceased to qualify as a European quota, an emission like Blood of Vienna would still qualify. Produced by British producer Endor and MR Film from Austria, it was shot in English; however, because it was ordered in Germany (ZDF) and Austria (ORF), it is considered European. This is one of the strengths of Red Arrow: with its headquarters in Europe, we have close contacts across the continent and can act as a bridge to the UK and the US.
TV drama: Faced with the challenges of Covid-19, have the financing mechanisms changed?
IBARGUENGOYTIA: To some extent, but the presence of Covid insurance production funds, like those in Austria and the UK, has helped stabilize the situation. Right now, there are enough precedents of several ongoing productions to give financiers and broadcasters the confidence to invest again. We had the opportunity to follow this process with the second seasons of Blood of Vienna and Stella Blómkvist, which were produced during Covid. We now have a better understanding of practical measures and how to effectively implement security protocols. This gave us the confidence to invest in projects. However, the added pressure to find partners to share the cost burden remains.
Everyone faces different situations and challenges. The financiers must determine what works for each partner, project by project, while trying to maintain as much as possible the respective proportions of each partner’s contributions.
Where there has been more shift in content and production choices, companies are prioritizing content that is firmly within their comfort zones, and in general, the market appears to be shifting more towards more genres. contemporary, with companies seeking to contain more studio shooting than on location. Being more dependent on postproduction and thinking about the size of the cast and crew from the start are also trends and something we all need to consider when evaluating new projects. There is also a great appetite for shows that can be shot and delivered quickly.
TV drama: Stella Blómkvist came from Iceland, which has only emerged as a power drama producer in recent years. Are there other emerging territories that you are watching?
IBARGUENGOYTIA: Many markets have emerged in recent years. Covid has helped accelerate this trend as some smaller markets have been able to step in to fill in gaps left by US and UK productions that have been postponed or suspended. We have certainly enjoyed working with some of the best producers in these small countries, like Sagafilm in Iceland to Stella Blómkvist. Flemish Belgium, where we worked with De Mensen on The banking hacker. The focus is on consolidating the presence of these secondary markets as they continue to offer more. A very interesting territory for us is Central and Eastern Europe, which has a long history of production services. This has resulted in incredible production craftsmanship – the production quality there is fantastic – and they increasingly show their caliber in storytelling and character development through local commissions. It’s definitely a targeted market, and it’s a market we’ve had a lot of success in with scripted remakes like Einstein and Danni lowinski travel a lot through this region. Faced with the dual challenge of Covid and quotas, there is a high demand for local language content there, so if a broadcaster is shown a drama that already has a successful track record, they will attempt a remake commission and put their own stamp on an existing title. We’ve even seen this trend in the UK with recent Eagle Eye Drama productions.
TV drama: What are your priorities in the coming months?
IBARGUENGOYTIA: We’ve been working on an exciting development list for a few years now, so going forward it’s all about trying to find the best time to bring these projects to market. And it all comes down to collaboration and finding the right partnerships on an international scale. The value and expertise that each partner can bring in terms of harnessing alternative funding sources such as tax credits and local grants and even additional pre-sales in their territories have become increasingly essential to obtain the financing of new projects.