Justus Riesenkampff • Distributor
"It’s not our expectation, but rather our buyers’ expectation, that counts"
- At the Série Series festival, distributor Justus Riesenkampff discussed Beta Film's strategy when it comes to selecting series
Cineuropa: What are your criteria when it comes to selecting projects?
Justus Riesenkampff: We are looking for the shows with the best international potential, mostly from the big studios in the USA and the UK. However, these types of shows are hard to access, because the big players distribute these themselves and retain the rights. So we have to find series that are both accessible and have international potential. Usually these are non-English language shows. We are looking for strong prime-time drama, which can be very local, like Gomorrah, a show from Naples. There are markets in Europe with corresponding viewing habits, such as Italy and Spain. A show like Hassel is more of a cable show, but it has the potential for international markets. So there is a case behind every acquisition we take on.
What attracted you to Hassel?
I’m handling sales and acquisitions in Scandinavia, so it was obvious that I was looking for something Scandinavian. We knew the producers, heard the pitch and met the creators very early on, and they packaged the series with Ola Rapace in the lead role and Amir Chamdin to direct. We thought this could be a strong programme. It starts very local, then travels to Brussels and becomes more international. Scandinavian drama often travels internationally because of the authenticity of the writing, the actors, the whole package. Most international buyers are looking for series which they can stretch on slots over weeks to hook an audience. For a broadcaster it’s always easier to make an offer on a series because you can throw all your weight on one larger project.
Which elements does a series need to have to be successful both nationally and internationally?
There is no blueprint for that. There are series that are excellent, but don’t travel. It’s an individual case for each series to determine which territories they can reach. Spanish shows travel to Latin America, for example, and even Turkish shows travel to Spain. And then of course, from time to time, there will be a very broad show, like Grand Hotel, a Spanish show that travelled across the whole world. Shame, a Norwegian web series, travelled the whole world because it was addictive and drew the audience in.
What ratings constitute a successful viewership for a series?
It varies from broadcaster to broadcaster. They have a certain expectation of viewership for each slot. The paid TV broadcasters are also measuring streaming numbers for marketing value. Every channel has an expectation for its viewers, and it can be between 1% and 20%. It’s not our expectation, but rather our buyers’ expectation, that counts. Sometimes the viewership may not be as high as expected, but if there is extensive press coverage surrounding the show the channel doesn’t mind.
How do you think the rise of new distribution platforms and streaming services will influence the future of series production?
The influence can be felt already. Viaplay in Scandinavia, who is producing Hassel, is one of the biggest buyers of original series. We would love to have a German platform ordering ten shows per year, releasing original programmes every month. It doesn’t exist. But the success of those platforms depends on the territory. I think Viaplay will always do Scandinavian drama, Netflix will always do English language drama and perhaps a little bit of German or French. It really depends on the territory and how strong the players are.
Is the availability of new platforms positively or negatively influencing the quality of series being made?
I think it gives more variety, because the expectations of a platform are very different from the expectations of a traditional broadcaster.
How much is a broadcaster willing to spend on a series?
They are willing to spend a lot more than they would on acquisitions. Financially, it doesn’t make sense to create original programmes at all, because you can always buy a show. But it’s the commercial value, and the need for these players to have a face. For the public broadcasters, it’s a matter of spending public money on production.
Do you feel that European co-production is a necessity or a burden?
It’s an opportunity and a challenge. It’s the future, as long as it’s done right.
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