“I feel sure that consumers will continue to seek out high-quality content, and that this content will keep coming. I don't foresee any critical issues,” said Sabine Anger, head of Paramount Global for Central & Northern Europe and Asia, at the INCONTRI #11 Film Conference organized by the IDM Film Commission in Merano. Buzzword: Golden Age. Europe as the Klondike, local content as Yukon Nuggets, sought after by an increasing number of platforms determined to dominate the Subscriber Race. It matters little if, in an increasingly crowded market, it is indeed the pioneers who are showing signs of fatigue: the negative performance recorded by Netflix for the first time in ten years (in the first quarter of 2022, the platform informed its shareholders of a drop of 200,000 subscriptions, and forecasts that this figure will rise to two million in the near future), is a wake-up call that rings hollow for the time being.
As Sabine Anger explained at the INCONTRI #11 Film Conference “consumers will continue to look for quality.” The question is where. Coming to Italy, Germany, Austria and France “in the latter half of the year,” the Paramount+ platform is just the latest among the streaming services active in Europe, which have brought hours of SVOD (streaming video on demand, by subscription), TVOD (transactional video on demand, by rental) and AVOD (advertising-based video on demand, with advertising) content. Ever since the arrival of Netflix in 2015, a growing number of streaming platforms and services have coexisted in Italy, from Disney+ to Amazon Prime Video, from Apple TV+ to Starzplay, from Timvision to Chili, Mubi, Iwonderfull, Nexo+, Infinity+, Now (Sky), Pluto TV. The streaming ecosystem is similar in the neighboring German-speaking countries. For the newcomer Paramount+, the secret of success is said to be a “differentiated approach”: a subscription platform, Paramount+, on the one hand and a free platform, Pluto TV, with second-run content and advertising on the other. The key, for all players, will be the recognizability of the “package” offered to the consumer: the proprietary brands – think Marvel for Disney, or Star Trek for Paramount+ – must be associated with the platform. Not having an immediately recognizable franchise series on the menu “is an obvious disadvantage,” as Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings himself admitted during the inauguration of the company’s Rome offices, even though “it forces us to seek originality, to be attentive to everything that is new. To establish ourselves as the home of innovation.”
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE SUBSCRIBER
-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder & Co-CEO Netflix
THE RACE FOR LOCAL CONTENT
The key to winning the streaming battle, as the CEOs of all platforms repeat like a mantra, is just one: content. Not any old content, but local content. Local stories, local talent, local productions to be made locally and linked to the history of the various countries. “The fact that more and more commissioning bodies are coming onto the market is good news for writers, who are seeing their prospects multiply,” says screenwriter Nicola Guaglianone, who wrote the series Vita da Carlo for Amazon Prime. “But for this very reason, we must now discuss the question of rights: the increase in production value must correspond to an increase in remuneration for those who launch the spark that starts the production chain. You have to pay for the idea, the concept. Otherwise, you make entrepreneurs out of other people’s heads.” Newcomer Paramount+ is looking at local content, as is Disney+, as confirmed in Merano by the head of Disney’s original productions, Benjamina Mirnik-Voges, who announced 60 “new shows” to be made in Europe by 2024: “Powerful stories with a local feel,” she said, “that engage in dialogue with local markets.” Netflix has always looked to local content and has a clear idea on the matter: “The new platforms are welcome, because competition is the key to quality. And it is the quality of the stories, the ones offered by everyone – even rivals – that will allow our services to beat the real competition: TikTok and YouTube, which are currently winning over the kids.”
THE ECONOMIC ISSUE
And so, as a result of the National Tax Credit and the desire to restart, but also of the rush for content launched by the platforms, in Italy there is a filming boom, with an increase of 77 per cent of jobs generated in the last year, according to ANICA data. “Competition is growing. The variety of players is increasing. Competition leads to quality,” reflects Nicola De Angelis of Fabula Pictures, producer of the successful Netflix series Baby, who is working on the series Briganti for the same platform. There are too many of us producing, and this throwing open the doors to anyone, asking for “quality products” generically, turns us all into content suppliers. But we are producers, not suppliers: The producer is a talent and must be treated as such, respected for the investment risk and for the care he or she puts into the product – assuming that there is care put in. The platforms give us freedom on the creative side, that is true. But when it comes to the deal, the economic agreements, we have no freedom. They are extremely strong: the industry needs producers, small ones as well, who can say no to them.” Gianluca Curti of Minerva Pictures is on the same wavelength. For him, considering the “incredibly high level” of Disney or Apple productions, it is necessary “to achieve greater quality through a different system of economic organization: a comprehensive, honest and democratic partnership between large platforms and independent producers, given that the former put a lot of money on the table, but that it is up to the producer to steer it in the right direction.”
And last but not least, there remains on the table – still unresolved – the issue of public money, both European and regional, and its more or less justified contributions to the major platforms’ products. “We are not closed to the world of streaming; on the contrary, we consider ourselves to be open,” says Birgit Oberkofler, head of the IDM Film Fund & Commission. “But we must always remember what our purpose is and why we were born. In this context, we consider it necessary to assess who really needs public funds, and for which project. There are many ways to work together. We have decided not to allocate funds to projects for which the producer does not hold the rights. The aim is to strengthen independent production,” in order to prevent that, during the gold rush, small producers are left holding only the empty sieve.
“The Evolution of Streaming Strategies”: the evolving strategies of the major platforms, between new competitors and market fragmentation, psychological effects on audiences and economic effects on producers, as well as special regulations by European funding bodies: this was one of the main topics at the INCONTRI #11 industry conference, which brought together around 100 decision makers from the film industry in Merano from 26-29 April 2022. An opportunity to consolidate their network of contacts and discuss current and future challenges, including streaming strategies and financing. Summary of the conference, to read again.