This year is shaping up to be yet another frenetic one in the international media landscape, with change incoming on numerous fronts. Here, our overseas team breaks down some of the issues we think will define the entertainment and news terrain in 2024.
How Low Can The Market Go?
After a year of industrial strife, many will be looking forward to seeing the back of 2023, but the question of where things head in 2024 has dominated chatter since the dual U.S. labor strikes came to their eventual conclusion. One two-word phrase has summed up predictions above all else – “market contraction.” TV execs from all walks of life forecast that 2024 will be a year of correction, with global levels of production slipping as the streamers desperately seek to turn profits while retaining subscribers, and traditional players continue to grapple with challenges ranging from ad contraction to streamer fever. One senior source from the U.S. TV sector predicts development will tumble by around 40% next year, a figure he says has been doing the rounds in production circles. “The streamers are in a state of flux – they are looking at their balance sheets and thinking, ‘How many new things do I need to order each month in order to make my subscribers happy’,” says an international commissioner at a U.S. streamer. “It’s all about retention over new subs.” Contraction in the U.S., which was the talk of the recent Mipcom and MIA markets, will of course have serious knock-on effects on production around the world. And local players in each market are facing their own obstacles, with layoffs abound at the likes of Viaplay and Prosieben. We haven’t yet seen the back of recession and cost of production only keeps rising. In the UK, for instance, the BBC now has to grapple with a £90M ($112M) shortfall from the less-than-expected license fee rise, while Channel 4’s woes have been plenty documented by this website. Both pubcasters have said content will be hit. While some believe an era of contraction is no bad thing given the way a blank-cheque-style market exploded somewhat unhealthily pre-Covid, there could be pain to come as players old and new adjust. How well they adjust could hold the key to their futures.
Union Talks Go Global
The strikes were painful in the U.S. but also had significant impact on global production ecologies. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA’s months-long labor action demonstrated the globalized nature of the industry with productions put on hold around the world, talent and crew left in limbo and international organisations emboldened to take their own industrial action. In the UK, crunch talks are being readied. Actor union Equity’s contracts with producer body Pact are running down and the pair will sit down over the coming months. Equity also needs to strike separate deals with the BBC and ITV for shows that fall outside the Pact agreement. While there are nuances and the system works differently from the U.S., demands are similar. General Secretary Paul Fleming has pulled no punches with his claim that the union will echo the move of its American counterparts and attempt a strike if the parties remain too far apart, and only last week Equity announced it will ballot members in the English National Opera on a potential strike. Meanwhile, the Writers Guild of Canada and the Canadian Media Producers Association are knee deep in negotiations of their own, and so far it’s not been going too well. In perhaps classically Canadian fashion, both sides have agreed to stay quiet during talks, but with no deal yet in place and residuals, AI and data transparency sticking points (sound familiar?), a group of major showrunners including Anthony Q Farrell and Scott Montgomery wrote an open letter last month claiming the Canadian Media Producers Association needed to “engage with our Bargaining Committee in a respectful and good faith effort to address the needs of writers and creators in a swiftly changing world.” European players have also been keeping a keen eye on happenings on the other side of the Atlantic and they could now look to ape the WGA and SAG agreements, especially with respect to streaming residuals in territories such as Germany and the Nordics. Netflix only has a handful of agreements with creative unions in Europe in place today — and that is more than the other global streamers present in the continent. Watch this space.
WBD & Paramount: More M&A To Come?
No year in the TV and film world is complete without a big M&A story and 2024 will be no different, especially given December’s bombshell meeting between Warner Bros. Discovery’s (WBD) David Zaslav and Paramount Global’s Bob Bakish. While the ink barely feels dry on the WB and D merger, Paramount appears primed for a sale. Were this one to go through, it would be the media business story of 2024. Naturally, the WBD merger has had major ramifications for both businesses internationally, which are still taking effect as we speak (2024 will see relaunched streamer Max roll out in more than 20 European countries), and adding Paramount to the mix would be no different. If it goes through, and it is only allowed to proceed from April, expect more synergies, layoffs, sell-offs and plenty asset restructuring, coming from two behemoths that have huge presences outside the States. One such asset is All3Media, which WBD is in the process of trying to sell with co-owner Liberty Global. Lawyers for Jeff Zucker and Jeffrey Cardinale’s RedBird IMI were hoping to dot the i’s and cross the t’s over Christmas on the Abu Dhabi-backed investment outfit’s circa-$1B ($1.26B) acquisition of the Squid Game: The Challenge and The Tourist maker, though that was always an ambitious time frame. While no one would put it past this topsy-turvy sales process to get another dose of late drama, if RedBird completes as expected, the investment firm that is currently trying to buy the UK’s Telegraph and Spectator magazine will take charge of a fleet of indies that make some of the world’s biggest hits. How RedBird brings this forward in tough economic times will be fascinating and could yet be an indicator as to the extent to which private equity firms and investment vehicles want to burrow into the traditional media sector. Speaking at Content London in November, Banijay CEO Marco Bassetti criticized such firms for “pushing up prices and raising expectation into the market” with their M&A activity, as he questioned these firms’ broader strategy. Banijay was at one point frontrunner in the All3Media race, and the highly-acquisitive Big Brother maker will likely be mulling its next move in the space after dropping out. Fremantle, meanwhile, has had a quiet year on the M&A front, having been on such a spree the previous year, and it will be interesting to keep an eye on acquisitive activity from the likes of Mediawan and Federation Studios.
The pandemic pushed festivals, conferences and events online, which mostly served up an unsatisfactory facsimile of the real-life experience. Entertainment being a people business, there was understandable bounce-back when the world opened up. The sands are now shifting again as businesses continue to embrace and finesse hybrid working and international meet-ups organized over Teams and Zoom. Meanwhile, with many festivals getting support from the state in one way or another, a squeeze on public finances in many territories is hitting home. The economic and practical shocks dealt by conflicts, and challenged advertising markets also play into the story. Among major events in transition or facing existential challenges are the Berlin Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and American Film Market, while Venice will get a new President in 2024 amid a political shift in Italy. Cannes got its new President in 2023. In the UK alone, the Edinburgh film and TV festivals will both have new leaders in 2024, as will Glasgow, while Sheffield and London introduced new leadership in 2023. Meanwhile, NATPE has new ownership and Mipcom’s standing continues to evolve. Creatives and execs will continue to be more selective about the trips they take in 2024. Smaller delegations will hit the road. Event and festival folk should not, however, despair. Content remains king and festivals remain key launch pads for that content. The majority of this year’s Best Picture contenders were launched at festivals and that looks set to continue with renewed studio and streamer confidence in theatrical debuts. Brilliant events where people can come together, celebrate great projects, learn and be inspired, and network (and, okay, sometimes just plain gripe about the business), will remain vital parts of the fabric of the industry. There will, though, be a flight to excellence. If an event’s lineup feels phoned-in, or sessions fluffy and PR-driven, then what’s the point? Alternatively, if it’s put together with love for the work, the people and the business, then they will come.
AI was at the heart of the Hollywood strikes, and the debate around its impact on the film and TV industries will only intensify in 2024, kicking off with the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its 40th edition features several titles using the technology or tackling its impact on human life. They include “generative documentary” Eno about David Bowie’s legendary music producer, which changes on every viewing. Generative AI, and the way it mines original works to create something new, is a divisive development in the creative industries. Artists across all disciplines are calling for greater transparency around what original content is being fed into these tools, as well as regarding renumeration for when their work contributes to the creation of something new. This year, France’s SACEM, which represents the rights of more than 200,000 creators, said it was opting out of making its members’ works freely available for use in AI tools. However, not all creatives are pushing back. A growing number of artists are embracing AI such as New York-based French director Pierre Zandrowicz. He has been experimenting with text-to-image tools including Midjourney, DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT to create AI shorts films such as In Search Of Time. Artists like Zandrowicz say that rather than trying to hold back the AI tide, creatives would do better to learn about how the technology can work for them. Will more join him in 2024? The ripple effects of tech developments will continue, for better and/or worse.
Future Of Arthouse In The Spotlight
On one level, 2023 was a banner year for independent arthouse cinema in Europe with titles such as Anatomy Of A Fall, Jeanne du Barry and Animal Kingdom in France, The Peasants in Poland, Explanation For Everything in Hungary, A Brighter Tomorrow in Italy, The Teachers’ Lounge in Germany and Aftersun in the UK all making waves at the box office in their respective territories. But these breakout titles remain few and far between, and indie distributors across Europe report highly polarized markets. Mid-year box office figures in France, Europe’s biggest arthouse market and a bellwether for the entire region, demonstrate the stark reality. More than half of the 360 films released failed to draw more than 100,000 spectators (representing a gross of roughly $760,000). France’s National Cinema Centre announced in December that it had appointed veteran media and culture sectors exec Jean-Paul Cluzel to carry out a special study on the challenges facing indie distributors. He will deliver his report next May. The indie exhibition sector is also under pressure. In the UK, 45% of the 157 cinemas that responded to a recent study by the Independent Cinema Office predicted they would be operating at a loss by the end of this financial year. Crucially, Italy is a long way off returning to pre-pandemic levels for theatrical box office and independent cinema is feeling the pain in the territory. Back in France, two iconic theatres – the Bretagne in Montparnasse and the Gaumont Champs-Élysées Marignan – closed their doors for good this fall, while the 110-year-old Luminor cinema in the Marais could also be shuttered in 2024, following a decision by the site owners not to renew the lease. In Sweden, the Stockholm Film Festival has just saved its historic home of the Scandia Theatre from closure by taking over the contract and is now fundraising to keep it afloat.
Change Up: Climate Content Goes Mainstream
Film and TV addressing climate change will continue to move on from being the preserve of the news department and documentarians and into the mainstream in 2024, we predict. Producers, filmmakers, broadcasters and streamers are increasingly alive to the fact that there is an engaged audience that will lean into climate content. But there is a human as well as business dimension to the story – people in film and TV are experiencing the same existential angst as those from any walk of life around climate change. Consequently, an increasing number want to focus their professional efforts on the subject. That extends to talent too, witness Edward Norton, Tahar Rahim, Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard, Gemma Chan and more joining a starry international cast for Apple TV+’s Extrapolations. Eco thrillers such as The Swarm and The End We Start From debuted at major international festivals in 2023. By territory, the UK is in the vanguard. Pubcaster Channel 4 is putting out primetime factual-entertainment shows about climate issues, and commercial net ITV is even shoehorning sustainability messaging into reality mega-hit Love Island. BAFTA, meanwhile, has just appointed an exec, Carys Taylor, as its first Director or of Climate Content, who was at COP 28 in Dubai, and the Edinburgh TV Festival has a Climate Impact Award. Tellingly, in a cutthroat British TV market, the broadcasters’ top brass are even meeting privately to share ideas. But climate change is a global issue – as acknowledged by the ‘Global Storytelling Forum’ at the recent COP conference in Dubai – and in 2024, climate storytelling could increasingly play out on screens around the world.
Big Year For India
Consolidation is a common theme in most media markets, but nowhere is it more evident than India, which is bracing for two major mergers in early 2024 in what could be a huge year for the local sector. Walt Disney Co has signed a non-binding term sheet agreement to combine its India business with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, although the merged entity may have to shed assets to satisfy antitrust rules. Reliance already owns the Viacom18 media group and JioCinema streaming service, while Disney has Star India in linear and Disney+ Hotstar in streaming; and Disney and Reliance between them own rights to most of the major cricket tournaments in India, which attract huge interest. Sony is seeking a similar deal for its India operations with Zee Entertainment Enterprises, although the marriage has already been delayed by regulatory roadblocks, including an investigation into the groom — or at least Zee top brass — which has been hit with claims of financial impropriety. On December 21, the pair was given a one-month grace period to conclude the deal, as the battle over who will be CEO of the combined entity drags on. Both deals are driven by the need for scale and retaining a share of contracting advertising markets, as well as stemming losses from streaming as the market transitions from linear to digital and global streamers — including Netflix and Amazon — encroach. But it may be bad news for producers shopping projects, as there could soon be fewer buyers to sell to.
Ramifications Of Israel-Hamas War
As Deadline writes, the estimated death toll since Hamas’ heinous October 7 attack on Israel has stretched beyond 20,000. Nearly three months have passed since the bloody attack but the suffering shows no sign of easing. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu says the sustained bombardment of Gaza will not stop until Hamas is destroyed, but international support for Israel’s response has noticeably dimmed as the death toll rises and images of chaos and humanitarian pain continue to dominate front pages and news networks. Scores of Palestinian journalists and media workers are among those to have been killed in the Gaza bombings. On October 7, Israel’s TV and film sector, which has for decades been punching above the weight of a nation of only two million, ground to a halt. Some in the industry still have relatives and friends trapped in captivity, a situation that is difficult to comprehend. The few Israeli execs who made it to Mipcom Cannes in late October spoke of the need to try to keep things going but producing content amid the conflict is a near impossible task and many of those in the sector are volunteering for relief efforts. Deadline recently revealed a renewed drive to get the sector going again but that is heavily dependent on how the war develops. That said, the first film and TV projects are starting to emerge about the conflict, including documentaries and one narrative feature we revealed about a female tank unit. Complex decisions are to come in 2024 for the way in which festivals and confabs choose to integrate and seek to foreground both Israelis and Palestinians as the conflict rumbles on. The conflict has been a highly-charged one, landing the likes of Susan Sarandon, CAA’s Maha Dakhil, United Agents’ Kitty Laing and actress Melissa Barrera in hot water for remarks or reposts made on public platforms. Observers will be keeping a close eye on the way in which celebrities and agents use their considerable platforms to discuss the war. It is a simply terrible situation, and one that, for the immediate future, shows little sign of abating.
Free Speech Under Pressure
Agnieszka Holland, Saeed Roustayi and Gabor Reisz were just some of the filmmakers coming under pressure from their respective governments for their work this year, and concerns remain for the near future. Holland was attacked by Poland’s ruling far-right government over migrant drama Green Border, Roustayi was given a six-month prison sentence by Iranian authorities for showing his film Leila’s Brothers in Cannes in 2022 without permission. Hungary’s Reisz, meanwhile, made Venice prize-winning, social satire Explanation For Everything on a micro budget after being denied support by the Hungarian Film Fund, which is now focused on dramas putting a positive spin on the country’s past and present under the rule of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. This pressure on cinematic freedom of expression looks set to continue into 2024. Iran’s clampdown on artists shows little sign of slowing with concerns currently growing for directorial duo Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha, who are facing trial on charges related to their upcoming film My Favourite Cake, while, in Hungary, young filmmakers whose films are not in step with those of Orban and his right-wing Fidesz know they won’t get funding at home. One bright spot is the ousting from power of Poland’s far-right PiS party in November, which has set in a motion an overhaul of the country’s film and TV sectors to protect it from future political interference, including the closure of the state broadcaster’s news channel. Meanwhile, China, India, the Middle East and North Africa remain among key places where censorship is a live concern for studios, filmmakers and journalists.
Other international stories to watch in 2024: The U.S. and UK elections, Twitter/X and Elon Musk and Korea’s continuing content boom.