Welcome back Insiders. Hope you’re feeling sufficiently rested and re-energized as the world of TV and film kicks back into gear. Jesse Whittock with you for the first edition of 2023, and we have plenty for you.
Channel (Not) 4 Sale
“Better ways to secure sustainability”: Max Goldbart here reporting on a phenomenal week for the UK’s Channel 4, which is officially remaining in public hands after the government u-turned on a sale plan. Although we all knew it was coming, Channel 4 execs were simply delighted following first a leaked letter from Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan indicating she would prefer the Gogglebox network to remain public and then the official confirmation from 10 Downing Street the following day, in which Donelan said “there are better ways to secure sustainability.” The abrupt u-turn ends a difficult 18 months for Britain’s alternative broadcaster and puts to bed for the second time in six years an issue that not that many people seem to support or even understand (96% of respondents to a government consultation on the proposed sale opposed it and many didn’t know how the Channel 4 model operates). Free-market-thinking Conservatives who despise the notion of a left-wing, irreverent broadcaster supported the move publicly but were very much in the minority. Some were briefly in power in the form of Nadine Dorries, the idea’s main cheerleader, but no longer. Speaking to me Thursday morning, Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon heaped praise on Dorries’ successor Donelan, calling the former WWE marketing manager a “smart and sensible” person who understands Channel 4’s value to the nation. Talent was delighted, with Help creator Jack Thorne tweeting “Happy happy HAPPY 2023” and Sarah Dollard, the Doctor Who and Bridgerton writer, summing up the mood more succinctly with “Thank f**k for that.”
Big package: More good than harm could result from the debacle in the end. The government’s declaration was paired with a “sustainability package” to see Channel 4 into the future that includes an increase in the network’s £200M ($240M) borrowing limit, which will come in handy during the upcoming recession, along with commitments to boosting skills and investment funding and moving more roles outside of London. This all points to a sustainable future. Channel 4 was quick to remind interested observers that it is already in rude financial health, having broken the plus-£1B ($1.2B) revenue mark for the first time last year as Dorries & Co were telling the world it needed to be “freed from the shackles” of public ownership. Dorries, who back in 2021 famously failed to demonstrate she understood how Channel 4 is funded, took to Twitter after the decision to say “three years of a progressive Tory government” are being washed down the drain. It all felt a bit panto villain.
Keeping it in-house: But where Channel 4 goes, controversy follows. The sustainability package’s final condition contains a revolutionary commitment to allow the pubcaster to produce its own shows and keep IP for the first time, in a similar vein to BBC Studios and ITV Studios. British production companies have long relied on owning the shows they make for Channel 4 to support their businesses and this condition was met with alarm from the indie world, with trade body Pact stating its “disappointment” at the measure. Other producers MovieSlay spoke with were immediately worried, as per the analysis I worked up with Jake, although some appealed for calm, given that it will take years to build up an in-house production outfit armed with a truckload of globally-appealing IP. “It’s optimistic at best and naive at worst,” one senior indie boss told me, arguing that Channel 4 in-house will never reach the heights of the BBC and ITV’s production units. Mahon, for what it’s worth, stressed that the in-house plan came from the government, not Channel 4. Much more to come on this and we’ll be following every step of the way.
TV’s Spending Splurge Slows
Leave your bank account alone: The end of 2022 was punctuated by mass redundancies (and they’re continuing in 2023), as global media companies struggled to make the numbers work in the face of recession, ad market downturns and falling consumer spend. So it’s no surprise that TV companies are also curtailing their content budgets. Ampere Analysis on Tuesday released a report that suggests the decade-long boom in global TV spending is about to come to a screeching halt. Even including lucrative sports rights, worldwide TV spend is predicted to come in at $243BN, just 2% up on 2022 and the slowest rate of growth for 10 years. And while a rise might sound like good news, inflation will almost certainly offset, as one smart commentator noted in the comments of our article. In reality, we’re looking at market contraction. As Jake’s piece noted, back in November, Showtime Entertainment President Jana Winograde had warned of “belt tightening” in 2023 and stomachs are already being constricted. Inexpensive TV might be the answer, Ampere predicted: “We are already seeing a shift in content commissioning to incorporate a greater volume of cheaper unscripted formats.” It’s not all doom and gloom for big spenders, however: comparatively, worldwide spend in 2013 was just $128BN. Read more here.
Better news at the box office: Cinemas have taken a pounding since the pandemic, with many still staying away from theaters and streaming services offering big-ticket movies close to their theatrical release dates. However, Gower Street Analytics this week provided some positivity as we move into 2023, noting the 2022 global box office was up 27% year-on-year to $26B. International sales represented $18.4B of that total, a 16% hike based on current exchange rates, with Chinese takings dragging the total down from being an even more impressive 55% increase. As Nancy’s article noted, the numbers are encouraging but have to been seen in context: the worldwide number is still 35% below the pre-pandemic three-year average – a loss of about $14B. Lots more analysis here.
Césars Tackle Sexual Violence
Taking a stand: France’s equivalent to the Oscars, the César Awards, will bar anyone under investigation for or convicted of sexual misconduct from its events. The bold step was taken ahead of its major ceremony next month and comes as Forever Young actor and emerging star Sofiane Bennacer faces allegations of rape and violence. He vehemently denies the charges and claims he is the victim of harassment by an ex-girlfriend but had already been removed from the Césars’ annual Revelations rising stars list back in November following reports he was under judicial control. Under the new César rules, those under investigation can’t attend the César Awards on February 24 in Paris. Should they win an award, no one will speak on their behalf. The Césars organizers say the decision’s been made “out of respect for the victims.” We’ll see if other ceremonies and festivals take similarly hard lines this year. Zac with the full report.
Ta-da, it’s Tahar: We also had some lighter César Awards news for you. A Prophet and The Serpent star Tahar Rahim will preside over the 48th awards at Paris’s historic l’Olympia concert venue next month. Rahim’s Césars pedigree is undeniable – winning best actor and most promising actor back in 2010 for A Prophet and, according to an academy statement, he “has continued his career with finesse, opting for rich, diverse and complex characters, and new experiences.” Rahim’s international popularity has grown even further over recent years, with his spine-chilling performance as recently-released serial killer Charles Sobhraj terrifying viewers on the BBC and Netflix in The Serpent. Further event highlights include a career achievement César for director David Fincher, who follows in the wake of Cate Blanchett, Penelope Cruz and Michael Douglas.
Prince Harry Reveals Wills Beef
Every dog bowl has its day: Another day, another royal accusation. This time, the story is from an extract of Prince Harry’s upcoming tell-all book, Spare, revealed by The Guardian on Thursday. The salacious text claims Hazza’s older brother, Prince William, physically attacked him when they met to discuss Harry’s decision to leave frontline Royal Family duties with wife Meghan Markle. Having called Meghan “difficult,” “rude” and “abrasive,” William is alleged to have grabbed Harry by the collar and knocked him onto the floor. It gets madder. “I landed on the dog’s bowl, which cracked under my back, the pieces cutting into me. I lay there for a moment, dazed, then got to my feet,” writes Harry. The disintegrating relationship between him and future king William has been a topic of hot debate since Netflix released its Harry & Meghan documentary, which made several allegations against the royal household. There’s more to come, with the publication of Spare (which was already mistakenly published in Spain) preceded by a Harry interview with ITV and CBS this Sunday. The book’s title relates to Harry’s belief he is a “spare” part, with older sibling Will having always been the “heir” to the throne. Other revelations include Harry admitting to taking drugs when he was younger, killing 25 people during his time as an Apache helicopter pilot in Afghanistan and a psychic telling him his late mother approved of his move to the U.S. You can see a trailer for the TV interview here.
Turning the page after Chapter 11: Reports of NATPE’s demise were, in the end, exaggerated. Months after the organization that runs North American and East European confabs for international execs filed for Chapter 11, its events have been saved. Brunico Communications, the publisher and events firm behind Real Screen, Kidscreen and Banff, acquired the assets of the bankrupt company for around $150,000, meaning the popular events will return. NATPE Budapest will take place as planned in June with NATPE’s flagship U.S. event likely returning in January 2024. The previous owners had planned to switch the event from Miami to the Bahamas and it remains to be seen where it’ll take place.
🌶️ Hot One: Disney+ is set to adapt the Shardlake detective novels, with The Forge attached as producer. Read Jake’s scoop here.
🌶️ Another One: Concourse Media took worldwide sales rights to Yanis Varoufakis doc In the Eye of the Storm, as per Andreas’ exclusive.
🔥 Sure, more fire: Emerging UK comedy star Munya Chawawa is working on a Channel 4 sketch show pilot.
🤝 Done deal: The Crown producer Left Bank Pictures was valued at $124M after parent Sony took full control of the business. Jake had this one.
🤝 Deal closed: Banijay secured its acquisition of Australia’s Beyond International.
⬆️ Promotion: Fremantle upped Christian Vesper to Global Drama CEO.
🍿Box office: Avatar: The Way of Water topped $1.5B global.
🚪Exiting #1: Luci Sanan, formats chief at Ninja Warrior distrib The Story Lab, after seven years. I had the story.
🚪Exiting #2: Marc Lorber, SVP at Lionsgate International, after nearly a decade. That followed the news Superna Kalle is exiting Starz International Networks.
And finally… some (partially) good news from Iran, where actress Taraneh Alidoosti has been released from prison after posting bail. More to come on her situation.
More Hollywood News Is Here.