Factual to the fore as ITVS fine-tunes development
In October last year, ITV Studios (ITVS) took the bold decision to realign its various distribution operations, merging several businesses together. The move looks prescient following the tumultuous events of 2020 – allowing the company to provide clarity in a chaotic market.
The unified catalogue brings together three strands: global formats creation via ITVS Creative Network (ITVSCN), unscripted format sales under ITVS Global Entertainment (ITVSGE) and ITVS Global Distribution (ITVSGD) handling finished tape sales.
With buyers searching for acquired content to plug gaps developing during lockdown, the spotlight has fallen on ITVSGD’s portion of a catalogue that now comprises 46,000 hours. The division recently secured sales rights to the upcoming series of BBC1 drama Line of Duty.
Elsewhere, ITVS has been forced to halt several of its own productions, and the ITVSCN and ITVSGE units have reacted by assessing the opportunity to adapt their existing IP and develop new formats for the new environment.
Julie Meldal-Johnsen, executive vice-president of global content at ITVS, says the mantra for the company’s international production companies is to focus on development. “This has been the absolute priority for ITVS across all the genres, so that when the gates open up for production, we’re ready to go.”
Several key dramas had mostly finished shooting and were in post-production, including Sky’s Little Birds, period pieces Romulus and The Singapore Grip, The Pembrokeshire Murders and series two of The Bay.
With ITVS’s key strategy now to “turbocharge” the factual slate, projects such as A Year on Planet Earth – Plimsoll Productions’ blue-chip natural history series for ITV – benefitted from extra development time.
Meldal-Johnsen says this has manifested in more time spent on scientific research and general show prep, which will mean production can restart in earnest as soon as appropriate to do so.
“My priority is to keep content coming into the distribution pipeline,” she adds. “We’re particularly hungry right now for premium factual content.”
The lockdown could have scuppered the distribution of some of ITVS’s signature titles such as Coronation Street and The Graham Norton Show. However, some clever scheduling in the former and format adaptation of the latter, new episodes have come through.
Around the world, big formats such as The Voice have been adapted to stay on air, through shorter run times, smaller and closed sets and less pre-production.
“The key for us is being flexible and having a flexible sales strategy,” says Meldal-Johnsen. This means quickly communicating what content is forthcoming, what productions are affected by the coronavirus lockdown, and what formats would be adapted to be Covid-proof.
“Clients appreciated that and were happy with the results,” she adds.