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Neil Peplow's Industry News Round-Up | 19-25 November 2018

Illustration by Jason Raish, via The Hollywood Reporter

Facebook was faced with a week of damage control after a damning exposé in The New York Times revealed Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg had run a campaign deflecting criticism away from its handling of Russian interference in US elections onto rivals. The backlash against the social media giant has even had some predicting the fall of digital advertising. Facebook’s other battle has been to get people to watch its original shows. With streaming platforms bulking up on content, including a potential deal between NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia, it may already be too late for the platform to be a serious contender.

It’s ironic as the drama emanating from Facebook’s boardroom rivals the best that peak TV has to offer. With Mark Zuckerberg stating he has no plans to resign, it will be interesting to see where this storyline ends up. NYT journalist Jim Rutenberg thinks the answer can be found in the 2008 film The Social Network, “Before the credits roll, we see Mr. Zuckerberg refreshing his laptop screen again and again — a signal, in retrospect, that history would repeat itself.”

In Australia, we saw the public broadcasters SBS and ABC present their upfronts for 2019. ABC has renewed some audience favourites, including Gruen and Utopia, and commissioned new shows, such as Black B*tch by Blackfella Films, Diary of an Uber Driver and Australia’s first vertically shot comedy show, Content. Meanwhile the SBS repositioned itself as a brand with “A World of Difference.” Its new dramas include Hungry Ghosts, which explores the lives of three generations of Vietnamese Australian families, as well as UK gameshow Mastermind. One thing you won’t find on SBS though is comedy due to restricted budgets and a highly competitive market for the genre. Newly appointed Managing Director James Taylor was clear that SBS was targeting a distinctive niche, “Our content proposition is quite different. 91% of audiences tell us they find stuff on SBS they can’t find anywhere else.”

The commercial networks have a different market and approach to their audiences. Sonya Wilkes, Seven’s Head of Programme Development, pointed to MKR to demonstrate how successful shows needed to hit a broad audience. Currently, series revolving around emergency services, such as Nine’s Paramedics and Ten’s Ambulance, are proving to be hits with broad audiences. In line with this strategy, the networks are also reviving well-known drama titles, including Halifax, to build on existing recognition and reduce risk. Foxtel has also recently renewed the well-established Wentworth for another 20 episodes, much to the joy of its fans.

Freemantle Media, the producer of Wentworth, has been particularly busy over the last month launching a new podcast label, whilst striking deals with Keshet for international formatsNatalie DormerMarta Dusseldorp and Jono Gavin. This is on top of backing or buying a raft of production companies over the last year, including Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It TV, Israeli formats outfit Abot Hameiri, Simon Andreae’s Naked Entertainment, Ian Collie’s Easy Tiger, Italy’s Wildside and France’s Fontaram, among others. The recent failure of Endomol Shine to find a buyer may lead Disney, its new owner, to drive the business to consolidate its position through growth and acquisition. In a highly competitive and well-capitalised TV market, driven by the investment of the streaming giants, it’s a safe bet to say the production sector will continue to be a focus of merger and acquisition activity for the near future.

The local streaming platform Stan has recently stated that it has no issue commissioning local content if it has an international reach. Stan’s search for relevant local series has been helped by the announcement of a development fund with Film Victoria. In terms of what it will commission, it could take the lead from the recent trend of successful peak TV dramas that blur the lines between genres. On top of this, in an era of short attention spans the number of episodes per series has been getting smaller . One of these shorter series is a current favourite, Mr Inbetween. Well worth a look. Unlike Westworld, it’s over before you know it and leaving you wanting more.

Meanwhile, Netflix thinks it should only commission content it wants to commission, and doesn’t see the need for an Australian content quota in a local market now worth $4bn. It points to recent Hoodlum production Tidelands as a demonstration of its commitment to buy Australia shows. And if you want cut out the intermediary and buy your own streaming platform, Disney just calculated the price they paid for Hulu, which came out as $9.3bn. Not bad considering the Netflix market cap is currently $125bn.

As I try not to get too immersed in FIFA 19’s role playing version of their football game The JourneyI notice that the real world of sports broadcasting is going through some disruption. ESPN has recently lost two million subscribers, whilst Amazon has bid for Fox Regional Sports Network. This is in a week that has also seen Foxtel launch its sports streaming service Kayo. Anyway, I’ve got to get back to training my thumbs for the Champion’s League final. If I win I’ll be offered a new brand deal with Nike, and I might get to play for Real Madrid. It makes watching real football a bit boring. And before you judge me, it has actually been proven that games play a role in bringing humanity together…

Neil Peplow, AFTRS CEO

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