“The Beast Is Never Fed”: Current Trends in Fiction

As Editor of French magazine Le film français, François-Pier Pélinard Lambert knows a thing or two about global trends in film and television. Speaking at the Association québécoise de la production médiatique’s congress last April, Pélinard Lambert shared some insights with the attendees about the current state of the business. Here are some highlights.

Over the top television: an insatiable demand for quality content

By the end of 2018, some 613 million people around the globe subscribed to a video-on-demand service – a 27% increase compared to the previous year. Ooyala, a company specializing in the management and monetization of video content, predicts that this number will reach 777 million by 2023.

While services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video obviously profit from such an increase, other, smaller platforms are also having a piece of the pie. As a result, the over the top television market is breaking down into smaller segments. “From a global perspective, we are witnessing a 20% increase in the number of platforms every month, says Pélinard Lambert, who sees this as an opportunity for producers. Currently, there isn’t enough content to meet the demand – regardless of platform, market or broadcaster.”

What those platforms need most of all is quality content. “In order for an over the top television service to exist, it has to feature at least one original production every month,” Pélinard Lambert states. The challenge then becomes to create content that finds – and retains – an audience, and hooks them enough to justify a subscription.

What makes this a leap of faith, of course, is that audience response is unpredictable. François-Pier Pélinard Lambert uses as an example Marco Polo, a big-budget series that was cancelled after two seasons – forcing Netflix to swallow a loss estimated at around US$200 million. Amazon Prime Video, for its part, had high hopes for American Gods. Instead, more modest fare such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Transparent ended up being the shows that built its brand.

In such a context, series with fewer (say, four or eight) episodes are emerging as a sort of compromise. For platforms – and broadcasters –, this becomes a way to gauge the level of interest of the audience before deciding whether or not the initiative pays off. “The worst-case scenario: if a series bombs, it will be replaced by a new one, says Pélinard Lambert. If, on the other hand, the platform ends up with a hit, it can renew the show for more seasons – turning the whole thing into an event.” Case in point: HBO’s Big Little Lies. Originally planned as a single-season show, the trials and tribulations of the “Monterey Five” were renewed by HBO for a second season.

Traditional broadcasters: it’s not over yet

The role of traditional broadcasters is being redefined, and the money at their disposal is dwindling. However, Pélinard Lambert believes they’re not about to go the way of the dinosaurs. “These broadcasters are proving to be quite creative in the type of content they offer viewers, he says. Unconventional, off-beat stuff such as documentaries, classic films, genre cinema, specific types of fiction – in many cases, these and other contents are created by traditional players.”

He goes on to say that one thing these broadcasters have going for them is that they remain bearers of a market’s cultural identity. “No other platform has yet managed to surpass them in terms of defining and maintaining a country’s cultural identity,” he believes.

As for movies, while it might feel like the industry is gasping for air, the situation isn’t as dire as one might believe.

Last year, for the first time in history, the global box office exceeded US$41 billion, with Canada and the US making up more than 25% of that amount – this despite dozens of video-on-demand services available. “Obviously, the thrill of experiencing a movie in a dark theatre remains quite appealing to many people,” observes Pélinard Lambert.

What’s more, China – as the world’s second-largest market, with box-office receipts reaching US$ 9 billion – is increasing its number of movie screens by 13% every year. Film producers the world over are rejoicing.

Turkish shows, dystopia and other trends in fiction TV

The audio-visual industry is evolving – and so are viewers’ tastes. One example of this would be the growing interest for Turkish TV shows around the world. “During MIPTV in Cannes, a good indicator of the latest trends in television is what you see on billboards along the Croisette, says Pélinard Lambert. This year, a great many of them featured Turkish shows.”

Turkey has now become the second-largest exporter of TV shows in the world after the US. Indeed, Turkish series are broadcast in more than 150 countries. “They’ve even managed to become more popular than Latin America’s telenovelas, Pélinard Lambert says. Across the Middle East, in China and throughout Europe, Turkish shows are everywhere on TV. In Brazil and Argentina, the major broadcasters air two Turkish soap operas each. When that happens, you know we’re onto something big.”

Producers in Latin America were forced to react to this trend by redefining the concept of telenovelas for new audiences. Hence the emergence of religious and narco telenovelas.

Fiction TV has also taken a turn for the gloomy and dystopian in recent years, with popular shows such as The 100, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror and The Walking Dead all enjoying success. “From a storytelling point of view, it’s interesting to witness the number of TV shows that deal with crumbling societies,” Pélinard Lambert observes.

While thrillers and detective shows remains essential genres, both have also explored alternate routes lately. “Scandi-noir” has traded gray skies, bluish hues and dark corners for a brighter atmosphere – something Pélinard Lambert refers to as “Scandi-white”. Other trends include the growing number of detective shows featuring family mysteries, as well as historical thrillers.

François-Pier Pélinard Lambert mentions that about 20 to 30% of what we see on TV around the world consists in a remake of something else. “When you own a piece of intellectual property that manages to stand the test of time and you can adapt it for a new audience, all you have to do is find an agent and try to sell the format, he says. You can find value in any franchise.”

A good example is French TV series Les bracelets rouges. Initially produced for Catalan viewers, the show was adapted by Fox for the US market, where it failed to find an audience. And yet, it went on to be the top youth program in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Russia. “The weird thing is that these markets are all buying each other’s versions, says Pélinard Lambert. In France, there are four versions of Les bracelets rouges, each with its own audience. It seems the beast is never fed.”

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