International Insider: BBC Analysis Special; Disney News Dump; Netflix’s Most-Watched; Berlin Jitters
Hello readers and welcome to International Insider, Jake Kanter here. In the week Britain started getting vaccinated for coronavirus, here’s a recap of all the global film and TV news you need to know. Any tips or stories can be sent to [email protected], or my DMs are open. And sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every Friday.
BBC Analysis Special
Seismic stuff at the BBC: The broadcaster confirmed on Tuesday what has been UK industry gossip for months: That it is scrapping TV channel controller roles in favor of a commissioning model that puts its streamer, iPlayer, at the heart of greenlight decisions. It ends channel controllers’ decades-long reign as audience tastemakers.
The big picture: The BBC pioneered British TV in 1936. More than 80 years on, the power has shifted to streaming and the BBC is competing in a global landscape in which Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and Disney are spending billions on content and have up to 30M British subscribers. The BBC’s restructure not only acknowledges this power shift, it doubles down on it. One well-placed source said it’s the broadcaster’s most significant digital play since iPlayer was launched in 2007.
How it will work: Genre chiefs will be given total greenlight power and will work with new portfolio editors (who do not have commissioning authority) to decide where and when shows air on iPlayer and television. The new system comes into force next April and overseeing it all is BBC chief content officer Charlotte Moore.
The reaction: A senior BBC insider said the changes should lead to faster decision-making and help commissioners “get out of the way of producers.” The source added that it will result in longer-term thinking, allowing programming chiefs to focus on “defining shows that will endure” rather than fillings slots in a TV schedule. Producers are not so convinced about streamlined processes and are dubious about the idea that portfolio editors will have no say in commissioning decisions. “It’s way too early to write off channels,” said one top BBC supplier.
Clarity will be key: “The risk is that a system that, on the surface, should make things simpler actually becomes more complicated. How do these directors of genre interact with the new channel roles and what does that decision-making process look like? That’s what needs the most thought,” said one former BBC commissioner.
Winners: As we know, the changes will hand supercharged powers to existing genre bosses, which will embolden the likes of drama chief Piers Wenger and comedy head Shane Allen. So, undoubtedly good news for them. Good news also for iPlayer controller Dan McGolpin has also been elevated to director of iPlayer and channels and will be responsible for the new portfolio editors. One source said he will be Moore’s eyes and ears on the commissioning floor.
Losers? Industry insiders said BBC Two controller Patrick Holland might find the restructure harder to swallow. The well-liked channel chief has led BBC Two to award and ratings-winning success, but will now have to surrender his cross-genre power and return to his roots as the BBC’s director of factual. “Patrick will be furious and, I imagine, out of there as soon as he can,” texted one pal. Others were not so sure, pointing to his love of factual. And what about BBC Four controller Cassian Harrison? Currently on a nine-month attachment at BBC Studios, he won’t have a job to return to. The controller job is gone, and if speculation is to be believed, the channel will also be ditched as the BBC seeks savings of £925M ($1.2B).
As for BBC Three: The Fleabag channel is the outlier to all the changes above, with controller Fiona Campbell remaining in place and retaining her commissioning power. An explanation was not forthcoming from the BBC, but it could simply be a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. BBC Three gave iPlayer its biggest hit of 2020: Normal People (pictured above), which has been streamed 62M times. Meanwhile, internal talk about restoring BBC Three to TV has cooled in recent months, with insiders telling Deadline it would be counterintuitive at a time when the corporation is preaching streaming first.
Disney News Dump
Disney offered up a veritable feast of news at its Investor Day on Thursday. Deadliners in the U.S. offered a blow-by-blow account of the event. Below is a roundup of some of the biggest headlines:
- Disney+ continues march: The streamer’s subscriber base hit 86.8M globally, which was up 18% on 73.7M on October 3 — the last time Disney offered guidance. Inevitable price hikes are now coming. Doubling down on TV: Disney said it would launch “roughly” 10 Marvel series and 10 Star Wars series over the next few years. Series in the works include Don Cheadle returning as James Rhodes, aka War Machine, in Armor Wars, while Dominique Thorne becomes the first Black female lead of a Marvel series in Iron Heart. Over in the Star Wars universe, future series include a Lando Calrissian spin-off and an R2D2 and C3PO animated show. Big-spending: All of this doesn’t come cheap, as you might imagine. Disney said it will be splurging up to $16B on content for its online platforms by 2024. Films head to Disney+: Enchanted sequel Disenchanted and Sister Act 3 are among the new features joining the stream team. Hulu update: Disney’s other streamer has snapped up the Kardashians on an exclusive deal, while Hulu also confirmed that The Handmaid’s Tale will return for a fifth season. Star goes global: Another Disney streamer, Star, will launch as a branded tile on Disney+ in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Singapore on February 23, 2021. It will essentially be a global Hulu. And if you’re after some analysis, why not try my colleague Dominic Patten’s wrap on the Disney bonanza.
The international invasion: Netflix has traditionally been opaque when it comes to disclosing viewing numbers, but 2020 has seen the streamer offer more insight than ever before. Back in June, Reed Hastings said the company was seeing a rise in consumption of international content during the pandemic, and two freshly-disclosed lists have revealed which non-English shows and films made their mark in America.
Chart-toppers: The lists present a varied picture of territories, ranging from Korea, to Mexico and Russia. High-profile names such as Spanish series Money Heist, German show Dark, and the Donnie Yen-starring Ip Man 4: The Finale all make the cut, but there are surprises at the top of the charts, with German historical drama Barbarians (pictured) and Spanish genre pic The Platform topping their respective fields. French pic Cuties also made it into the top 10, evidencing that the controversy around the movie probably boosted its viewing numbers. Content from 2020 dominates, partially due to Netflix’s subscriber base continuing to grow, but also reaffirming that the lockdown has been a boom time for the consumption of streaming content. Go deeper.
Brooker Back In The Saddle
Sticking with Netflix, Deadline revealed the full details of Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ first project for Netflix since they went golden handcuffs with the streamer. Their production outfit is making Death To 2020, in which a starry-cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, and Leslie Jones, will play fictional experts who reflect on the year’s real events. There will be plenty of material.
‘Wipe’ wiped: Think of Death To 2020 as a supersized version of Brooker’s topical comedy Wipe franchise for the BBC. What started in the late-night corners of the often esoteric BBC Four grew into a hit for BBC Two, where Brooker’s annual Wipe specials provided a much-needed antidote to wild news years like 2016, when Trump and Brexit upended the world. It’s a shame for us Brits that we will be without Wipe and many will be hoping Death To 2020’s injection of Hollywood steroids doesn’t draw the sting from Brooker’s waspish antics.
Nursery slope for the streamers: Netflix’s event special is a reminder of just how important the UK’s broadcasting ecology is for nurturing talent. Without Channel 4 and the BBC, Netflix would not have Black Mirror and Death To 2020, and Brooker might still be writing videogame and TV reviews. It calls to mind comments made last week by Sir Colin Callender, who said: “The mistake is to think the streamers are an answer or alternative to the British broadcasters — the reverse is true. What they prove is the need to protect the existing British broadcasting infrastructure.”
A Monster Mishap
China proves tricky: Paul WS Anderson’s video game adaptation Monster Hunter had been eyeing China as one of its biggest plays this time last week, but these hopes were dashed when locals were offended by the feature and it was pulled from cinemas. The moment that upset locals: Jin Au-Yeung (aka MC Jin) riffs to his scene partner, “Look at my knees. What kind of knees are these? Chinese.” This is being linked to a racist playground rhyme used to mock children of Asian origin.
Producers didn’t see it coming: My colleague Nancy Tartaglione reports that the reaction has taken those involved in the film by surprise, and profuse apologies were offered by Germany’s Constantin Film and Anderson. It’s particularly notable given any movie vying for a Chinese theatrical release goes through a rigorous vetting process by censors, and Au-Yeung’s knees skit was evidently never flagged.
The bottom line: The Milla Jovovich-starrer did about $5.3M at the Middle Kingdom box off last Friday (including late Thursday sneaks) before it disappeared from screens. Local distributor Tencent has been working with authorities to remedy the situation and delete the scene, but the damage could already be done in an already tumultuous theatrical market where every dime counts.
Berlin Changes Tune
Berlinale backing down? Big question marks now hang over the Berlin Film Festival after the event declined to commit to staging a physical edition amid rumors this week that it will be postponed due to continuing high coronavirus numbers in Germany and across the continent. Organizers told my colleague Andreas Wiseman: “We are currently testing the feasibility of the festival in February, as well as alternative options.”
Compare and contrast this to just a couple of weeks ago when Berlinale told us it was “too early to consider cancellation” and that the festival “still plans to take place as a physical event in February,” albeit with a reduced lineup. Look out for an update very soon, with the festival slated for February 11-21.
?️ Hot one of the week: ITV is turning Len Deighton’s spy novel The Ipcress File into a TV series. Peaky Blinders actor Joe Cole is stepping into the shoes of Harry Palmer, who was memorably played by Michael Caine in 1965. Full scoop here.
? International box office: Outside of China, Monster Hunter saw five markets debut via Sony with a combined $2.65M. Each came in No. 1. Nancy had the details.
? Awards news: Ncuti Gatwa won this year’s actor category for Sex Education at the BAFTA Scotland awards on Tuesday. More winners here.
? On the move: In something of a surprise, ViacomCBS Networks International president and CEO David Lynn is stepping down after 24 years with the company. He is replaced by another veteran: Raffaele Annecchino. Read more.
? Trailer dash: Lifetime caused a viral stir this week when it gave the world a taste of its latest TV movie: A Recipe For Seduction, starring Mario Lopez as KFC’s Colonel Sanders. Yes, you read that right — now wrap your chops around the trailer.
Blitz spirit: I mentioned the vaccine at the top of this email, so it seems appropriate that I bring to your attention the loveliest of CNN interviews with an early adopter of the Covid shield. Reporter Cyril Vanier collared Martin Kenyon outside of London’s Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital soon after he had received the vaccine, and the 91-year-old was stiff-upper-lip personified. “It didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t know the needle had gone in until it had come out,” he said. “I hope I’m not going to have the bloody bug now… there’s no point in dying now when I’ve lived this long.” We feel you, Martin, we feel you. Watch it here.
Tom Grater contributed to this newsletter.