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International Week In Review: Viacom Launches An SVOD Service In The UK, Berlin International Film Festival Opens

We know it may come as a shock, but there’s an entire world of television that exists outside of the United States. That’s why we’ve called on Mary Ann Halford, an actual American who has spent many years working in television overseas to keep our readers up to date on what’s happening beyond America’s borders. (We’re good like that.)

1. Viacom Launches An SVOD Service In The UK

In the same week Viacom delivered its earnings results, it also formally announced MTV Play, an SVOD service in the UK.  The service, which will be priced at £3.99 a month, is focused on servicing the 18 – 34 year old audience, which are choosing not to opt for pay TV services like Sky or Virgin in the UK.   Featured programming on the service will include Geordie Shore, Teen Mom UK, Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club and The Charlotte Show.  It will also include MTV classics such as The Hills and Jersey Shore as well as catch up content and a live feed of the MTV UK linear channel.

Why It Matters

Multichannel programmers in the UK are experiencing many of the same challenges as they are in the US. Their audience share is not growing vis-a-vis over-the-air networks like BBC and ITV. All of the multichannel programming groups, including Sky, experienced audience declines in 2018.  

Viacom was amongst the bigger losers.  The share of Viacom channels (excluding its ownership in Public Service Broadcaster Channel 5) fell over 14 %.  Decline in children’s viewing was a prime factor; however, lack of pay TV uptake amongst millennials is also a cause. It is likely that Viacom’s decision is an attempt for them to mitigate continued audience erosion as well as tap into growing consumption of SVOD services. 

What You Need to Focus On

Throughout the late 90’s through mid 2010’s, major U.S. media companies enjoyed significant revenue growth from their channel operations overseas in Europe, Latin America and Asia.  However, that growth has slowed down in recent years as pay TV penetration has never reached the levels it has in the US. 

Historically pay TV penetration in many countries was either limited by the widespread availability of over the air options (e.g, a French viewer can get 30 or more channels for free just using an antennae.) Thus, cord-cutting is not as significant in Europe as it is in the US.

That said, increased uptake of SVOD services is impacting the performance of international pay TV programmers, causing them all to consider SVOD options.  

NBC/Universal, for example, has found a successful formula in its service Hayu which features its deep library of reality programming including Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives

The service’s success to date can be attributed to its programming focus, targeted audience and distribution partnerships.  It offers very niche programming that attracts a certain female-oriented audience.  On the distribution side, Hayu enjoyed promotional support from Virgin Media, with Virgin TV’s XL TiVo subscribers getting the service for free.  NBC/Universal has since leveraged its UK success and expanded to a number of other territories, including Canada, Australia, and Benelux.   

In the case of Viacom, while they do have a defined programming focus and targeted audience, they do not have any distribution partnerships.  The service at launch will be available in the Apple and Android app stores.  Viacom has indicated that they are looking to develop telco partnerships, which will be critical to the success of this service, especially given that Americans aren’t the only ones who like to watch TV on an actual TV.  


2.  Berlin International Film Festival Opens

The Berlin International Film Festival, also known as the Berlinale opened this past week on February 7th.  Founded in 1951, the festival since 1978 has been considered on the big three European film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. It will feature up to 400 screenings from February 7 – 17.  A total of 20 international films will compete for the prestigious Golden Bear Award.  The selected films for competition this year include Elisa and Marcela from Spanish director Isabel Coixet (The Bookshop), Mr. Jones from Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Spoor), starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard; So Long, My Son from Chinese helmer Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle); the Mongolian drama Öndögfrom Berlin Golden Bear winner Wang Quan’an (Tuya‘ s Marriage); Piranhas from Italian filmmaker Claudio Giovannesi (Fiore); the German drama System Crasher from first-timer Nora Fingscheidt; Hans Petter Moland’s Norwegian dramedy Out Stealing Horses, starring Stellan Skarsgard; and God Exists, Her Name is Petrunija from helmer Teona Strugar Mitevska (When the Day Had No Name).

Why It Matters

While this festival has always attracted major buyers around the globe, the SVOD buyers are becoming increasingly important.  It is reported that Netflix has a 49-person delegation while Amazon has 22.  In addition, on the series side, both will be active, with Amazon’s Hanna and Netflix’s Quicksand representing almost 30 % of the Berlinale series titles.

In addition, Netflix will actually be screening one of its acquisitions in competition for the first time at the festival.  The film, Elisa and Marcela, directed by Isabel Coixet (The Bookshop) portrays the marriage of two women in Spain in 1901 after one of the two adopted a male identity.

What You Need to Focus On

For many years, the international film market was largely financed through the key international players around the globe offering pre-sales guarantees or purchase commitments at global film festivals..  The SVOD players are increasingly becoming either the most important funding commitment or ultimate buyer of content.  While it is not expected that Berlin will yield the same amount of deal activity as Sundance did a few weeks ago, it is anticipated that SVOD players will be amongst the most important buyers at this year’s festival as they need to increase their international programming offerings.