International Insider: Channel 4 Privatization & Producer Problems; Muted Cannes Market; Streaming Regulation

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Channel 4 Privatization & Producer Problems

Channel 4 changes: The big news this week was the UK government firing the starting gun on a process that could end with Channel 4 being privatized. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has said an “alternative ownership model” could be better for the broadcaster behind hits including The Great British Bake Off and It’s A Sin. That will be put to the test in a weeks-long consultation, during which the industry is likely to fiercely resist the sale of a prized piece of UK television real estate. Our story.

Why it matters: Channel 4 has been government-owned since its inception in 1982, but is commercially funded and entirely self-sufficient, plowing all of its profits into the UK’s independent production sector and creating innovative public service content. The fear is that a new ownership structure could erode Channel 4’s unique remit, damaging producers, audiences, and the government’s mission to “level-up” outside of London.

The government’s rationale: Officially, ministers question if Channel 4 is sustainable in its current form, given its heavy reliance on ad revenue in a market now dominated by subscription streamers. Unofficially, sources close to Channel 4 speculate that it is a victim of the culture wars, with the government keen to show it is cracking down on the network’s perceived woke values.

Devil in the detail: Either way, ministers argue that by selling the broadcaster, it could be liberated to expand overseas and move into in-house production, much like Channel 5 has done under ViacomCBS ownership. The government was not clear about how Channel 4 achieves this without compromising its core principle of being a publisher broadcaster with a penchant for public service programming.

We’ve been here before: The Conservative government last looked at privatization in 2016, when Channel 4 was valued at around £1 billion ($1.5B) and potential suitors included ViacomCBS and Discovery. By exploring another sale, are ministers effectively arguing that one way of protecting a uniquely British success story is by selling it to the Americans?

What Channel 4 thinks: CEO Alex Mahon has largely kept her powder dry on the issue of privatization, but that changed this week. She warned that a sale could irreversibly damage the UK broadcasting landscape. “We’ve always got to be careful of doing anything that might be irreversible, that could possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector and that we do for the UK,” Mahon said.

The backlash begins: Channel 4’s success is close to the heart of the UK’s creative community and they are already making their opposition known. Veep creator Armando Iannucci said selling Channel 4 could “muffle” the UK’s world-leading production sector, while It’s A Sin writer Russell T Davies called it a “rigged crime.” Channel 4 insiders think the argument will be won on economics, which is why Pact CEO John McVay’s intervention will have been welcomed at Horseferry Road. “The government’s plans to sell off Channel 4 will damage small businesses across the UK at a time when they are recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding their businesses,” he said. More reaction here.

Brexit battle: With the double blow of the pandemic and potential privatization, there may be a third threat looming for UK producers. The Guardian obtained a leaked EU document, which could mean British films and TV no longer count towards broadcaster and streamer quotas on European content. Declassifying UK content as “European works” following Brexit would result in a reduction in demand for shows like Midsomer Murders and Downton Abbey. Talks among EU members are at an early stage, according to UK Brexit minister Lord Frost, who basically admitted this week that there is nothing Britain can do if they move against UK productions. Tom Grater has more.

Muted Cannes Market

Hot packages: The Cannes online market took place this week and although it’s been a quieter than usual trading window (for the first time we can remember, a few of the biggest companies didn’t bring a new project to market), Deadline had all the biggest news on projects making waves on the French Riviera. One of the hottest packages unveiled to buyers this week was Jake Gyllenhaal and Vanessa Kirby survival thriller Suddenly, which is the sophomore directorial outing for screenwriter Thomas Bidegain, known for Palme d’Or-winning Dheepan. Other spicy ones included Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe Western thriller Dead For a Dollar, which will be helmed by legendary filmmaker and Western aficionado Walter Hill; Channing Tatum starrer Pussy Island; and Dakota Johnson-Sean Penn pic Daddio.

First big sale: Andreas Wiseman sniffed the first major deal of the virtual market. In a competitive situation, German major Leonine won rights to the recently announced Vin Diesel (pictured above in F9, which premieres at Cannes next month) and F. Gary Gray action-comedy Muscle. The splashy pre-sale, in the high seven figures, is one of the biggest single territory deals to go down at recent markets and is one of Leonine’s most lucrative acquisitions to date. In a market busy with low and medium budget dramas this is one of the few new big-scale packages on offer. Full story.

Film fest heats up: As the dealmaking gets going, preparations continue for the 74th Cannes Film Festival, which takes place from July 6. The fest has unveiled its jury which includes five women — a majority in the nine-person group including president Spike Lee. Among them are French-Senegalese actor-director Mati Diop, Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, French Inglorious Basterds actress Mélanie Laurent, Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner, and French singer Mylène Farmer. The Cannes Classics section also unveiled its lineup, which included David Lynch’s 2001 Mulholland Drive. Nancy Tartaglione had the full details.

Streamers Face Regulation

New rules: It’s been a busy few days for Boris Johnson’s government, which as well as targetting Channel 4, announced plans to regulate Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+. It is consulting on proposals to beef up Ofcom’s powers so that the regulator can hold the streamers to standards on accuracy and impartiality. Ministers are also keen for streamers to introduce age ratings on content, something Netflix already does after voluntarily adopting BBFC classifications. Our story.

Why now: The government wants to “level the playing field” between domestic broadcasters and increasingly influential streamers. Broadcasters including the BBC and Channel 4 are heavily regulated, while Netflix and Amazon enjoy a red-tape-free zone. “Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age,” was how culture secretary Oliver Dowden described it.

How will it go down: Netflix, Amazon, and Disney were all keeping mum this week. Sources close to Netflix, however, are open-minded about regulation in what is its most important European market, where it spends $1 billion on originals. “Netflix is supportive of the government’s intentions to bring the rules and regulations into the digital age and welcomes the broad direction of travel,” said a person familiar with its thinking.

Ben Kingsley Talks Playing Salvador Dali

More than a mustache: Making a biopic of iconic, complex, and enigmatic artist Salvador Dali was never going to be an easy task. Step forward American Psycho filmmaker Mary Harron and Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, who have teamed on Daliland, a film that explores the artist’s life at two crucial stages (with Ezra Miller playing the young Dali). In their first interview about the film, the pair discuss how they brought the project to fruition on a tight budget, including renting an entire Liverpool hotel to stand in for the St Regis in New York. Central to the film is Dali’s relationship with his tyrannical wife Gala (played by Barbara Sukowa), and Harron reveals it was the marriage angle that first attracted her and husband John Walsh, who penned the screenplay, to the pic. For Kingsley, Dali was not a typical role. “At the beginning of some days, I knew that Dali was reluctant to let me in until he’d seen me go through certain hurdles. Then I’d think to myself, ‘Ah, Dali, yes’, and he let me in. That was an extraordinary feeling,” the actor told Tom Grater. Read more.

The Essentials

📽️  In the frame: Above is the first look at Amazon’s thriller The Devil’s Hour, the latest series from Sherlock producer Hartswood Films. We had the news this week that Patrick Melrose actress Jessica Raine and Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi will headline. Go deeper.

🌶️  Hot one of the week: British broadcaster ITV is bringing back Undercover Boss after a seven-year absence from UK screens. Read our scoop.

🍿  International box office: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard was the only significant new opener in the session with an estimated $7.8M in its debut in 21 overseas markets. Coupled with the domestic five-day launch, the global total is now $24.8M. Nancy Tartaglione has the details.

🏆 Awards news: BAFTA has set Sunday, March 13, 2022, for its next British Academy Film Awards ceremony. As normal, the event will fall two weeks before the Academy Awards which are due on Sunday, March 27. More details.

📽️  MeToo Watch: The Crown producer Left Bank Pictures has been criticized by two women over its handling of a sexual assault complaint against executive producer Chris Croucher. Full story.

🇨🇦  Toronto lineup: Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, Theodore Melfi’s Netflix dramedy The Starling are among the first selections of the 46th Toronto International Film Festival, taking place September 9-18. Full details.

🇮🇳  India calling: Vidyut Jammwal, the Indian film star, martial artist, and stuntman whose credits include the Commando series and Junglee, has signed with U.S. management and production firm Wonder Street. Tom Grater had the story.

⚽  Euro 2020 ratings: France’s 2-2 draw with Portugal on Wednesday evening set another three-year audience record in France with TF1 registering an average of 15.6M viewers. More here.

🚚  On the move: Damian Keogh and Simon Vaughan, formerly of Gentleman Jack producer Lookout Point, and former BBC Studios executive Helen Jackson have launched a new UK-based content studio backed by Endeavor Content. The banner is called The Story Company. Go deeper.

🚚  Another on the move: Hamilton Hodell, the UK talent agency with clients including Daisy Edgar-Jones and Tom Hiddleston, has upped a pair of its employees to partner: senior talent agent Sian Smyth and India Sinclair, head of commercials, campaigns, and voice-over. More here.

🎦  Trailer dash: We got the first trailer for Knockout Blonde, the five-part documentary series about transgender boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, former manager of Lennox Lewis. Watch here.

And Finally…

Bog role Bond: Unexpected quote of the week goes to Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, who took a swipe at Amazon’s acquisition of MGM as she pointed out why privatizing Channel 4 might be a bad idea. “What’s the purpose of that consolidation? The purpose of that consolidation is to sell us all more toilet roll — to get James Bond to do that, so that we get sold more of that guff that we buy from Amazon and get delivered to our homes.”

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