TV Commissioning and Content Trends - Insights from Industry Leaders at Content London 2022

Latest 6 Dec 2022

News Story

This year at Content London (November 28 - December 1), we gathered some highlights and expert insights from the TV industry's leading commissioners, producers and buyers. With advice on all things from content strategy to financing, read our overview of Content London below to figure out who your next production partner could be...

Film London at Content London 2022

Film London at Content London 2022

Beginning with UK TV Drama, we heard from commissioners at the UK's foremost broadcasters about the diverse range of television they're looking to commission in the coming year. If you're looking to pitch projects centring around younger screen drama, then look no further than Channel 4...

''We're looking at shows that speak to the concerns of younger people'' explained Caroline Hollick, Head of Drama at Channel 4 on building on the success of shows like End of the F***ing World. Teenage stories with a range of tones have been a key focus for Channel 4 over the past few years and Hollick emphasised that they're only ''just getting started with TV drama''.

For Diedrik Santer, CCO of Britbox International, content targets veer more toward ''punchy crime titles'' that fall into the weekly returning series category. Whilst still aiming to diversify from reliable weekly crime/mystery thrillers, Santer explained that Britbox content must always reflect British society, focusing on stories that audiences can relate to with ''authenticity and ''reliability''.

With these reflections on commissioning UK TV drama, it's certainly exciting to see what the next generation of writers and producers can bring to British television screens over the next year.

I do think British creatives are the best in the world....writers are the lifeblood of this country

Philippa Collie-Cousins, Senior Drama Commissioner UKTV

Looking to co-produce your next TV show?

With the highly anticipated Showtime-BBC co-production of Woman in the Wall starring Ruth Wilson currently in production, Showtime's President of Entertainment Jana Winograde gave Content London an overview of the TV network's content strategy.

Writers who love messy, anti-hero characters that you ''hate to love'' should take note of content targets at Showtime. Winograde specifically expanded on the popularity of, and shift in audience attitudes toward real life white-collar crime shows over the past 12 months.

On the topic of global economic ''belt tightening'', Winograde advises producers and writers that ''returning series are always the goal'', as a result of the budgetary strain of limited series.

Not every game-changing, noisy show has to be expensive

Diedrik Santer, CCO at Britbox International, reassuringly speaking on current budgetary concerns in TV production.

Panellists at Content London like Santer and Winograde, although conscious of rising costs globally, are still confident that the pipeline of quality TV content can continue.

Nicola Shindler, Executive producer and CEO of Quay Street Productions echoed this sentiment on a later panel, emphasising that: ''There are ways of making it work, we have to adapt, there are always other ways to budget''.

Streamer and international TV drama content strategies

We were also thrilled to hear from a panel of leading production executives from the EMEA local originals team at Disney+. Streamers like Disney+ have fuelled film and TV production recently in thriving hubs such as London and the UK. But what type of content are they looking to commission?

Liam Keelan, SVP of original productions EMEA at The Walt Disney Company, dispelled the preconception that Disney's focus lies exclusively on family friendly content. With roughly 80% of original commissioned content on Disney+ being led by the Star content hub brand, Keelan alluded to the streamer's desire to look for hard-hitting true stories with ''diversity at the heart'' of the drama. With EMEA originals looking to commission and produce content that diverges from Disney's North American IP-owned entertainment brands, writers and producers with ''something to say'' should be aware of opportunities to link their content to Disney's ongoing vision.

Film London CEO Adrian Wootton OBE moderating a panel with Bruna Papandrea, Sue Vertue, Nicola Shindler and Patty Ishimoto

It's a very exciting time for episodic television with a lot of exciting shows being commissioned at the moment

Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission

As part of Content London's Development strand, Film London CEO Adrian Wootton OBE moderated a panel with some of the world's leading international TV drama producers. Wootton opened by asking what excited the stellar panel of producers most when looking for a new television project to commission.

Bruna Papandrea, founder and CEO of Made Up Stories says she's always looking for an original voice and story that she can fall in love with. Similarly, a script that ''stays in your mind the next day and makes you want to see the story on screen'' entices Sue Vertue, CEO, company director and executive producer of Hartswood Films, the production company behind UK Television fan-favourite, Sherlock. She also encouraged writers to prove that their shows are heading in a solid direction and scripts are complete before heading out into the market.

For Nicola Shindler, Executive producer and CEO of Quay Street Productions, a script that shares a point of view with ''a brilliant strong voice'' will always shine through. Shindler expanded on her advice to writers and producers looking to stand out in the bustling TV commissioning market: ''Stories that are true to themselves will have that universality to allow them to sell well internationally''.

The panel continued their discussion on ways to overcome challenges in the TV production marketplace. Bruna Papandrea emphasised the need to stay confident in one's pitch or production despite the long wait that may occur in conversation with potential buyers, acquires and distributors. With a busy marketplace and pipeline of content constantly in the works, Papandrea advised trying to find actors who will ''turn the dial'' for your TV drama, placing emphasis on the importance of casting when looking to stand out to buyers.

Content London at the St Pancras Hotel

What about content trends and insights into Factual and Unscripted Television?

Panellists from a wide range of TV commissioners and documentary producers shared their thoughts on content trends in the factual TV production sector. Beginning with the ever-popular natural history genre, Vanessa Berlowitz, CCO and Co-founder of Wildstar Films firmly believes ''every show today is made within the context of the climate crisis''. Equally, National Geographic Wild's content strategies aim to look at how climate change affects our day-to-day lives when commissioning or acquiring new shows.

Alternatively, Martha Holmes, CCO of natural history and science at Plimsoll insists that ''indulgent escapism'' is also a key focus of the genre, so long as factual truth is always relayed when documenting wildlife in action.

Moving away from nature-centred unscripted TV, we heard from expert commissioners on the recent popularity of the 'stranger than fiction' genre, where mysteries are told and the lines between real life heroes and villains blur.

Honing in on the UK market, British broadcasters and commissioners at Content London also discussed the rise of sports documentaries in the premium TV production sphere, alongside cemented content trends within the true crime and natural history genres.

Co-productions are a great way to share the risk and the reward with partners

Solange Attwood, EVP, Blue Ant Entertainment

Leading executives further praised co-productions as a successful financing model for producing factual TV. Representatives from both Universal International Studios and Channel 4 emphasised the need for openness and collaboration in factual and unscripted TV production: ''The best co-pros are when the financing and the creative comes together, that's where we're looking to go'', confirmed Ed Havard, SVP unscripted programming at Universal.

And that's all the insights, tips and advice from Content London 2022! To access more first-hand industry news for all things Film, TV and Games, sign-up to receive our weekly Industry Opportunities Newsletter here.