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Europe finds common language in bid to rival US TV productions

Apr 16. 2015
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By Agence France-Presse

"Game of Thrones" may finally bring a change in Europe that various wars and EU bureaucracy have failed to bring about: making English a common language -- on TV screens, at least.

Ambitions to rival US television superproductions are forcing European companies to put aside national pride and linguistic defences to jointly make their own expensive co-productions, and that means necessarily using the world's most widely understood tongue, according to executives at an international TV content fair in the French Riviera city of Cannes.

"In each European country, TV networks finance series to the tune of 800,000 to 1.2 million euros per hour, compared to three million euros an hour on American networks," Romain Bessi, the operating director for the StudioCanal production subsidiary of French channel Canal+, told AFP.

"European networks are now seeking to team up to finance productions for three to four million per hour," he said.

- Cinema quality -


Bessi and other representatives at the MIPTV fair said there are around 100 media groups in Europe able to come up with the money to finance a big-budget production. A decade ago, there was only a handful.

"Their number has exploded," Bessi said, "because of the growth of US pay-TV networks and the entry of video giants online" such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Sony, each of which needs around four big series a year.

Public tastes are also in play. European viewers have now come to expect cinematic quality after having watched US offerings such as "Game of Thrones", each episode of which costs an average $6 million (5.6 million euros). They are demanding the same standard from their local TV productions.

The result is a sea change for European networks. Before 2010, coproductions were rare. "Now we see partnerships no one would have thought possible," the head of drama for the British network Sky, Anne Mensah, said.

A push is certainly on to bring out splashy, expensive shows on the Old Continent.

One example is "Versailles", a Canal+ coproduction with Italian and Canadian companies budgeted at 27 million euros.

Another is "The Refugees", a science-fiction series whose lead coproducers are BBC Worldwide and Spanish TV giant Atresmedia. It's the first time Artesmedia has made an English-language.

The Scandinavians have also invested in coproduced shows, such as "Occupied", about a fictional invasion of Norway by the Russians, with dialogue in English, Russian and Norwegian.

Italy's Sky Italia has a pontifical drama in the works, "The Young Pope", imagining the first Italian-American head of the Roman Catholic Church.

French outfit Gaumont Television Europe confirmed at MIPTV it was bringing out its second English-language series, "1001", a Scandinavian-created thriller about a singer who demands a ransom to not commit murder. Its first series, "Spy City", was coproduced with a German company, Odeon.

Many writers in several countries are ready to work in English, Gaumont's vice-CEO, Christophe Riandee, told the US cinema industry magazine Variety this week.

"What we are seeing is the birth of a European creative community," he said.

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