HBO Max aims to globalise local content
- An in-depth discussion at Göteborg’s TV Drama Vision gave a broader understanding of the changes that the launch of HBO Max in Europe will bring this summer
In light of the fact that HBO is launching HBO Max, the new platform set to rebrand all of the local HBO Europe outposts, in Europe this summer, a panel was organised during the Göteborg Film Festival’s TV Drama Vision. Antony Root, head of Original Production at WarnerMedia EMEA, and Christian Wikander, commissioning editor and VP Original Programming at HBO Nordic, offered their insights during a conversation with Marike Muselaers.
Root started off by clarifying that all of the different local HBO Europe entities – Nordic, Adria, Spain, Poland, Romania and so on – are, in fact, one service that offers uniform content consisting of the US programming, including HBO Original series, with some regional variations. He also explained that these local versions exist due to the ongoing contracts that HBO has in other territories with different providers that air its content, which is also the case with Sky in Italy, Germany and the UK.
As for the Nordic countries, Wikander, who took up his post in September, mentioned that the focus is to produce four to five titles per year, for a territory that seems uniform but is actually quite diverse. The main aim is to recruit people and expand HBO’s presence, as has already happened in Norway, with Christopher Haug joining HBO Nordic as head of Drama Series – Development, or diversify content-wise, one example being its first Danish Original series, Kamikaze (see the news), set to premiere in mid-May. He also underlined that a great deal of development is going on, and that they are open to everything, including all genres and mixes of genres. An important factor for a new series is to adopt a perspective that hasn’t been seen before, and he used Jens Lien’s Beforeigners (see the news) as an example of rich and passionate storytelling. Also, HBO Max is intent on expanding content, including non-scripted programming, like true-crime documentaries, sports documentaries and even reality shows.
Regarding the “upgrading” of the HBO Europe outposts to HBO Max, Root explained that all of the local originals would be available everywhere, with more content coming next year. Given that it is a much broader service, HBO Max has a wider palette of offerings, and will be the umbrella under which all of the brands will sit. A Latin American version will soon be launched, and the service aims to be present in 190 countries by 2025, bringing yet more people on board. As a result, commissioning will have to adapt to this reality: with shows doing well not only in their countries of origin, but also being able to travel more, this will affect future selections as well.
After Muselaers’ question on how these prospects will affect co-productions, Root mentioned that there would still be chances to co-produce, as already happens in some territories, but in a different way. Everything will be examined on a case-by-case basis, and it is generally expected that when a service is global, there is a need to have control of the rights as well; however, HBO will still offer opportunities for partnerships. Wikander explained that this might mean a closer collaboration with local platforms, or switching the time frames for different locations to avoid overlaps. He underlined the fact that HBO doesn’t focus on volume, but rather on truly premium-level and well-curated content.
As for the process of opening up European titles to other markets, including the USA, Root stressed that HBO Max is one single service, so there is a guarantee that everything will be available where it has a presence. The entry point will still be the local commissioning editors, and owing to the current crisis in production in the USA and the need for non-English content, there are better chances for local series to travel in this period.
Muselaers returned to the aspect of content and focused on what “local” or “global” means to HBO. Wikander was clear that a series should start in a very grounded way, as in this manner, it originates from a certain place and has some sort of destination. It is important for a story to be anchored in a very specific space and then to expand the aspects that go beyond borders, which people can share in and identify with, no matter where they live. Root agreed and added that genre can help a great deal in this transferability, as some types of shows can be more relatable in different regions – but this is not the only way to achieve it. Wikander emphasised that even in the Nordic territories, it is very difficult for a series to travel among neighbouring countries, so the aim is to investigate better ways of pulling this off.
The discussion concluded with a sneak peek of the upcoming Norwegian HBO Original series Welcome to Utmark, written by Danish screenwriter and novelist Kim Fups Aakeson, and directed by award-winning Icelandic director Dagur Kári.
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