Nine Storylines That Will Dominate The International Biz In 2022, From Omicron To Korea & Studio Space To Streamers
As 2021 draws to a close, here’s our rundown of nine storylines likely to dominate the international film and TV business in the coming year.
Covid Phase Three
It is a full two years since a cluster of pneumonia cases detected in Wuhan were reported to the World Health Organization and were soon labelled Covid-19. We enter 2022 with the virus far from defeated. At present, the Omicron variant is wreaking havoc worldwide, with various lockdowns in place and travel restrictions returning to combat its spread. As we know, these measures have been severely detrimental to TV and film. For many, the question now is how to operate in the sector in a more medium or long term way while the virus remains obstinately among us. “We are entering Covid phase three,” Banijay Global Head of Content Operations Lucas Green told Deadline. Green considers the first phase to have been the hard lockdown of summer 2020 and the second when big-budget shows got up-and-running again, abiding by strict protocols. For the third phase, the sector needs to forge ways of working that alleviate the pressure on tired crew, with several producers reporting morale on set being at an all-time low. “Everyone is totally knackered,” one exec summarized. Higher budgets devoted for staff wellbeing and innovations such as “virtual hubs” should help, added Green, who said the gains introduced by Zoom culture can be used to positive effect. Meanwhile, the outlook for the movie industry’s vital film festivals remains precarious at best. Rotterdam recently announced that it will go online and while Berlin retains hope it can continue in person, that remains highly uncertain with restrictions increasing across Europe. It won’t be long before Cannes is in the crosshairs once again. By this time next year, we can only hope that Covid may be several steps closer to defeat but, with new variants emerging all the time, the screen sector is well aware of the need to futureproof.
Streamers: The Next Wave
Netflix, Amazon and even Disney+ are no longer the new kids on the block and 2022 will see a string of major rollouts for the next wave of streamers: HBO Max, Paramount+, Peacock and Discovery+. Yes, the streamer wars have truly entered phase two. Europe is set to be the major beneficiary of the rollouts, with Paramount+ launching in key markets including the UK and Germany, HBO Max coming to CEE and Portugal (although, frustratingly for WarnerMedia, not the major Euro territories due to long-term overall content deals), Peacock rolling out via Sky and Discovery+ already in the continent. And then there is Paramount/ViacomCBS’ streamer Showtime, coming to smaller European territories over the next few months, while more niche offerings such as NENT’s Viaplay expand. The big U.S. players have all stressed their commitment to local production and indies now find themselves with a larger client pool to pitch ideas to. More than half of UK distributors reported selling shows to Discovery+ in a recent survey, with 44% winning business from HBO Max and around one-third from Peacock and Paramount+. Elsewhere, expect several supercharged international slates from Disney+ as the Mouse House builds towards it target of 60 non-U.S. shows by 2024, while Deadline hears a slate of international AppleTV+ dramas could be incoming. At the same time, Netflix and Amazon will continue to build on local production strategies that reaped huge success in 2021. The streamer wars have gone global and they are showing no sign of slowing.
Korea Eyes More ‘Squid Game’-Size Hits
Simply put, 2021 was the year of Squid Game (and BTS). Regardless of the amount of stock you put in Netflix’s celebratory numbers, the show clearly permeated popular culture in a way very few pieces of content manage to achieve on such a global level (just look at pics from any Halloween party in October). Coming two years after the Parasite phenomenon, the show cemented South Korea as the buzziest content producer on the international stage. But will the nation further its reputation in 2022 or will other countries step up their game and seize the limelight? There are several reasons to think that South Korea isn’t going anywhere. Local major CJ ENM’s acquisition of Endeavor’s content business clearly indicates an ambition from the territory’s top producers to strengthen their international ties. Korean content has traditionally been the most consumed among the vast Asian population, but there is a sense now that the west is also up for grabs. What show was the first to unseat Squid Game from its dominant run in the Netflix charts? It was a fellow Korean series Hellbound. Apple also recently premiered its first Korean original, Dr Brain, as it launched its platform in Korea. While China continues to experience a political crackdown, and a focus on stopping capital flight, and Japan continues to primarily cater to its relatively insular local industry, Korea with its strong western ties looks well placed to further its prominence in the international TV and film biz in 2022. Key upcoming titles include: Netflix’s The Silent Sea, starring Squid Game actor Gong Yoo; a Korean remake of Money Heist; legal drama Juvenile Justice; and high school zombie show All Of us Are Dead. In a first for the streamer, Netflix is also remaking one of its Korean movies into English: Time To Hunt. It’s not all Netflix, however, with CJ ENM’s streaming platform TVing boasting a slate including Monstrous, a supernatural thriller from the creator of Hellbound and writer of the Money Heist remake, and sci-fi Yonder, the first streaming series from established director Lee Joon-ik, which stars Shin Ha-kyun and Han Ji-min.
Studio Space Race
As the content boom continues, so does the fight for filming space and the PR campaigns to attract foreign productions. The UK is a case in point when it comes to the feverish demand for studio space. In December alone, three London venues entered the fray: RD Studios, Troubadour Brent Cross and Versa. Sites are also in the works in Bray, Shinfield, Liverpool and in Scotland, to name a few. London’s Garden Studios was another site to open in 2021 and most of the major facilities are expanding and revamping, including Elstree and Pinewood, whose Shepperton venue is getting significant expansion via a new deal with Netflix. Which sites will get up and running first, who will be next to enter the studio arena and which content creators will look to tie up their own spaces? Meanwhile, Canada remains a hot spot for VFX and post. Toronto’s reputation as Hollywood North will only grow following the November announcement of a huge new film and television facility, Basin Media Studios. Oscar-winning VFX outfit Framestore has opened the doors to its awaited purpose-built studio in Mumbai, India, and existing stalwarts such as Italy’s Cinecittà continue to ramp up their ambitions as demand grows for local content. In addition, national governments and film and TV promotion agencies continue to steal a march on international rivals where they can. New tax credits were announced this year for Israel and Saudi Arabia and Greece introduced a new incentive in late 2020. Producers are increasingly spoilt for choice when it comes to international shooting destinations and Covid-permitting, those opportunities should only increase in 2022. Following the Rust tragedy, also look for safety protocols to be front and center in the year to come.
Endeavor Content/CJ Deal Beds In As International M&A Grows
Asian media giant CJ made one of the entertainment industry’s biggest plays in 2021. CJ ENM’s acquisition of 80% of Endeavor Content’s scripted business valued the firm’s drama offering at almost $1BN. Focus now shifts to the mega deal’s next steps, as Parasite distributor CJ ENM takes control of a portfolio featuring Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, See, The Revenant, The Night Manager, Call Me By Your Name and Killing Eve, as well as the upcoming Reminiscence and Blue Miracle. CJ ENM, which was established 12 years ago, now has a solid pipeline into Hollywood, coming at a time when Korean content is as hot as it’s ever been, led by the huge success of Squid Game. How will Endeavor Content’s core scripted output change, to what extent will the business be restructured and what are the synergies that can be drawn between the two? It didn’t work out for Eros and STX but will the CJ deal herald a new round of M&A in which international giants look into the U.S. for their growth? These are all questions that should be answered in the year ahead. One thing is for sure: the deal has lightened Endeavor’s debt load and signals major global ambition from Asian powerhouse CJ. The CJ/Endeavor deal wasn’t the only 2021 headline-grabber in terms of U.S-international synergies. Next year will also see the bedding in of U.S. management and production stalwart Anonymous Content’s France-based tie-up with Euro firm Federation Entertainment, as Anonymous/Federation sets about forging content for the French and global markets. This is just the latest European expansion for Anonymous (which also inked a deal in 2021 with Israel’s leading talent agency) with and a sign that U.S. outfits continue to look abroad to deepen international ties. Meanwhile, French outfit Federation is setting up a U.S. management firm. The global flow of business (and talent) has never been as fluid.
Bustling Indian Streaming Market Set For Key Year
The streaming wars in India have been raging at a high intensity throughout this pandemic, which has seen a swathe of high-profile, theatrical-bound titles pivot to an online release. It has been a shock to the system for the traditionally cinema-first nation. The influx of international streaming services combined with a surge in powerful local players has set the scene for a fiercely competitive market that continues to grow at enough pace to allow all players to expand – but will a ceiling be reached in 2022? India’s population is vast, and also very young, with an average age of just 29. Combine that with widely available high-speed internet, growing wages, and a strong appetite for content, and it seems arguable that there could be several years left in the territory before subscriber numbers begin to plateau like they are doing in certain western nations. However, streamers aren’t resting on their laurels, with clear recent indications that the big players are planning to get active in their manoeuvres next year. Netflix made headlines recently when it slashed prices across its various subscription tiers in India, including the popular ‘Standard’ sub, which dropped a hefty 60%. The move, which comes as other territories continue to see price increases, was read as an aggressive play for subs, prioritizing those numbers over revenue, at least in the short term. “The one-billion-person opportunity in India is very real… We have observed how subscriber numbers drive the psyche of Wall Street investors,” commented one industry source after the news. Also in December, Sony’s India arm finalized a merger deal with local rival Zee Entertainment to create the second biggest network in India. The pact is seen as a direct move to compete for online eyeballs with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and established player Disney+ Hotstar. The deal, which is subject to regulatory hurdles, includes two streaming services – ZEE5 and Sony LIV – could it be a sign of more consolidation to follow in the coming year? Amazon, which has been the most active player in picking up rights to talent-driven movies that had to skip their cinemas runs, recently nabbed rights to cricket matches the Indian national team plays in New Zealand, a key draw for cricket-obsessed local audiences. On that note, perhaps the most significant moment in Indian streaming next year could be the next round of bidding for the popular cricket tournament the Indian Premier League, with streamers in the mix last time out before Star India (now part of Disney) triumphed. The winner of those rights could steal a march on its competitors.
Africa: The Next Frontier?
Keep an eye on African content next year, which is set to become more prominent on global streaming services. Amazon recently closed a multi-year agreement with Inkblot Studios, one of the leading producers in Nigeria with credits including the box office smashes The Wedding Party and its sequel, to take exclusive global rights on its slate post theatrical. “Nigerian stories are truly some of the most exciting and thrilling in the world,” said Ayanna Lonian, Prime Video’s Director of Content Acquisition, on the deal. That pact follows Netflix’s tie up with Nigerian producer EbonyLife, which will continue to bear fruit next year. International streamers are beefing up their local slates in Africa to compete with local players including Showmax and MyCanal, and Disney+ is expected to become the next U.S. giant to enter local markets there in 2022. With VOD subscribers projected to triple across the continent in the next five years, Africa could become the next key battleground as subs begin to plateau in other more mature markets.
Saudi Arabia, it could be argued, has been the international industry’s breakout country of 2021. While the KSA has threatened to breakout since cinemas reopened in 2017, 2021 was the year the country hosted its first international film festival and multiple significant English-language productions in the shape of big-budget action pics Desert Warrior and Kandahar, as well as horror movie Cello. A government body estimated that in 2017 Saudis spent $30BN on entertainment and hospitality elsewhere in the Middle East. As cinema numbers surge and events grow, a decent chunk of that money should be spent locally instead. Some insiders are even predicting that the controversial state could become a billion dollar distribution market within the next few years. The growing number of international shoots and the starry Red Sea Festival (as well as an increasing number of major sports and music events) seem to indicate that qualms over the country’s depressing human rights record will not stop industry growth. Look for that uptick to continue in 2022.
What’s ahead for China and Hollywood in 2022 is currently a murky, frustrating and yet somewhat fascinating question. Demonstrating strong recovery at cinemas, the PRC will in 2021 be the No. 1 global box office market for the second year in a row. However, it could see that status revert back to North America next year. China was mercurial in 2021, allowing some studio titles through its coveted turnstiles, yet leaving a lot of potential on the table as it was stingy (or very late) with release dates and, notably, did not approve any film featuring a Marvel character (from Black Widow to Eternals, Shang-Chi, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and, so far, Spider-Man: No Way Home, which nevertheless has already crossed $1B worldwide without that market). There are varying theories as to why this happened, and equally there is confusion. A recent op-ed in CCP mouthpiece the Global Times accused Hollywood of having “distorted values of ‘political correctness’,” and “improper use of Chinese elements in their films.” It also pointedly asked: “Should the Chinese film authority allow… films to enter just because they are Marvel films?” While there’s no consensus among watchers as to when the situation changes, most agree it will have to if the market wants to retain its dominance. While an oft-heard refrain is that China doesn’t care about money, it’s also said the country does care about cultural power. And, though it may be entirely capable of churning out local films that gross well over $500M at home, without Hollywood product, sources believe it will not be able to feed its ever-growing number of screens in a post-pandemic world. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to watch as the country takes to the global stage with the Winter Olympics from Beijing in February (just as the lucrative Chinese New Year box office period will be afoot and when, normally, there is a so-called blackout on imported films). Several countries have already engaged in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games owing to human rights issues, but are allowing their athletes to travel. For Hollywood, we’re told, China remains a very important market, but one that needs to find a fine line between what’s important politically and what standing it wants to have.
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