Platforms, technology and marketing aside, what really drives the international TV industry is content. We asked a selection of execs from around the world for the shows that they feel are pioneering, brilliant or genre-defining.
In the world of docs, Simon Chinn from Man on Wire prodco Lightbox says 2015 was the year of the documentary serial. “For me, HBO’s The Jinx was the game-changer,” he says. “Following in its wake is a genre of serialised, highly-narrative docs which deploy fiction filmmaking techniques in a way that feature docs have been doing for some years.”
Kate Beal from UK indie Woodcut highlights Endemol Shine’s UK version of Swedish drama Humans as a highlight. “It was great to see a drama on Channel 4 break through to audiences of all ages,” she says. “It became appointment to view for the 16-34s, which is incredible for a linear channel.”
Welsh-language channel S4C’s boss, Ian Jones, says last year saw live news broadcasting entering into unchartered territory with coverage of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist atrocities. “In the aftermath, big questions have been asked about the morality of such detailed coverage. Did the broadcasters behave irresponsibly? Did the broadcasts hinder the police operation, and worse still, endanger the lives of the hostages?”
Execs at the dedicated news channel acknowledge their part of the TV business is changing fast. “In our field of news and information, there were developments in every part of our business – content production and newsgathering; advertising and commercial models; distribution on traditional platforms as well as direct to social, online and mobile; and, data insight and targeting,” says Greg Beitchman, vice president, content sales and partnerships, CNN International.
Some of the best 2015 shows cited by execs mixed genres – the current wave of true crime borrows much of its storytelling technique from the world of drama production. True crime series The Detectives, Making a Murderer and the OJ Simpson series on FX are all examples of the drama and factual genres borrowing from each other.
“The Detectives broke the mould in unscripted by adopting the clothes of serialised drama,” says Zig Zag Productions boss Danny Fenton. For Sophie Ferron, boss of Canadian indie Media Ranch, it was a drama with factual notes that stood out. She says: “It was Narcos with its mixture of archival content and drama. Great storytelling.”
While scripted TV has bloomed, some say the reality and fact-ent worlds have not in recent years.
“There hasn’t been anything truly groundbreaking in 2015 in the world of non-scripted content,” says Samuel Kissous, founder of French indie Pernel. “Some shows have been somewhat creative and there are indeed a lot of good quality factual programmes or formats, but there is nothing groundbreaking in the sense of ‘disruptive’ or creating a new genre of its own. Also, is the industry really looking for this?”
Stephen Lambert, who is behind some of the biggest unscripted shows on TV, rejects the idea that the factual entertainment is in the doldrums. “To suggest that fact-ent needs to bounce back seems bizarre; it’s never been stronger,” he says.
“The most popular show on the BBC this year is Bake Off. ITV continues to show that I’m A Celebrity is a ratings juggernaut and our own Gogglebox is the most popular show on Channel 4. I’m confident we will see a lot of new successful fact-ent shows hit our screens.”