The wolf hovers over SBS's favourite source of drama content. Image: Midnight Sun
The battle for VOD catalogue accessible to Australians is all about rights. Who has what shows and for how long? Who has what bits of the catalogue? Who has what output deals?
We have already seen Foxtel clobber the FTAs with a white knuckle deal giving it the first run BBC content which stops everyone else from grabbing premium English language drama content. The ABC, addicted to bonnet shows, pursed its lips and said it would make no difference. Ha ha, thought Foxtel, it will once you run out of your present deals.
As long as the market is 1/3 Foxtel, driven mostly by sport, and 2/3 FTA driven by shiny floor shows, the general public is the loser out of this arrangement, as those premium BBC shows are seen by a much smaller audience on subscription.
Now Foxtel has done a deal with Channel 4 to take parts of its on demand streaming service called Walter Presents, named eccentrically after presenter and brand symbol Walter Luzzolino, which has already been offered in the US.
Channel 4 CEO David Abraham told Hollywood Reporter
'We together developed the idea that the best advocate of this proposition is Walter himself. Initially, he was a bit reluctant to be the face of the brand, but we did some tests, and he got comfortable with it. It is such an authentic brand idea that audiences have really related to. It’s also practical. You want to watch those video introductions that he does to decide whether you want to invest eight or 10 hours of your life in a program.'
The Australian version replaces Foxtel Presto, which vacated the market and provided a larger niche for Stan. Like Presto it will run on Foxtel Now, which mimics Netflix and Stan with the same binge watching temptations. However, Foxtel Showcase will also take series in the normal way as well as episodes.
On November 1, the service will offer Spanish prison drama Locked Up, serial killer frightener Merciless from Brazil, and murder mystery Vanished By the Lake from France. You get the idea.
These are all subtitled shows, so they are pretty niche. The main casualty may well be SBS which is very fond of Scandi-noir and owns the foreign language market. Without it, SBS looks very tatty. Remember Midnight Sun?
However, something really interesting happens when we look under the hood of Walter Presents. There are 55 series, mostly European, many Nordic, with a strong contingent from South America, at least one partnered with HBO.
It is a joint venture between Channel 4 and Global Series Television, launched in the UK on January 2016, with advertising, as as a strand in C4s on demand channels, All4. It came to the US in March this year, it offered 34 series in 12 countries adding up to 500 hours in the first year.
Here is the showreel:
The Australian version is missing the substantial contingent of Scandinavian shows in the UK version. Very few are on offer in the US. So C4 does not own the North American and Australian rights to those shows. While some of them may be held by Australian companies, we guess they simply haven't paid the asking price until they have established the US and AU markets.
It is also possible that Netflix is sitting on them, even though the idea of subtitles gives its executives hives.
On top of this, CBS will probably launch its own streaming service through Ten early next year, though a lot of its content will be locked up by its competitors. They could make a mess with sport.
Who is Global Series Network? It is fairly obscure but C4 says 'Global Series Network is an independent company set up by Jason Thorp, Walter Iuzzolino and Jo McGrath, with financial backing from Channel 4 in the UK, to serve as the parent company to independent video-on-demand service, World Drama. World Drama, which will launch initially in the UK in autumn 2015, provides a one stop shop for the best quality non-U.S./UK drama series from all over the globe. It will be rolled out globally with various partners.'
Thorp had ten years at Fox International Europe after NBCU; Jo McGrath was Head of Production at Fox International Europe and Tiger Aspect Productions; Iuzzolino was Creative Director of Betty, a Discovery company after commissioning factual at C4.
It looks as if a gang of mates found a very interesting niche in the market. And the photogenic face of the biz, Walter Luzzolino, is a co-owner of the shadowy side of the partnership, which is probably the part which is running through the market like wolves on the tundra.
UPDATE: This will all happen in slow motion, since the deal will initially provide wider choice, and then move to the competitive strangulation phase. However, as several people have pointed out to me in discussion, that second half doesn't happen if no-one has exclusive rights.
My bet is that the non-exclusive deals will disappear, as unique content drives the larger players.
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