Is co-production a COVID casualty?
Scripted TV co-production has been in gentle but steady decline for the past couple of years, despite the growing budget demands of projects and the need to create global shows that 'work' in multiple international markets. On the face of it co-production for Scripted TV should be a god-send. But COVID-19's lockdown shut down Scripted TV production across much of the world. Bigger international projects were hit disproportionately as travel became at best challenging and at worst, impossible. It's not surprising then, that COVID-19 led also to a major dip in TV projects involving co-production. Since the end of lockdown 1.0, co-production activity for Scripted TV has picked up again, particularly for streamers. But the trend line overall, whether that be for linear or streaming commissioners has yet to take a definite upward turn from its two-year decline. Clearly there is more going on than the virus.
A number of factors could be influencing a gradual move away from co-production in addition to COVID. Multi-partner international co-production can be challenging to manage, complicating production at a time when a rapid flow of content is in more demand than ever. Global rights access is another factor. Co-production made a lot of sense for global streamers when they weren't actually global, but complete control of global rights and co-production are not perfect partners. And while a swathe of new studio-led streaming platforms have yet to achieve their global ambitions, the rate of international launch for new streamers is accelerating and will pick up even more as the world exits the COVID crisis.
Since the first lockdown ended, co-production activity among streamers has increased rapidly, filling pent up demand for co-production projects put on hold by the virus. But co-production for linear commissioners remains well off the peak seen during the first half of 2019. COVID won't kill co-production, but it's likely that projects and partners will remain closer to home in the near term. The studio-led streamers will likely off-set this to a degree with a temporary boost for co-production as they expand geographically over the next two to three years, that should lead to some resurgence of what was otherwise a steady downward trend. And what's not clear from the chart above, but is clear in our wider commissioning database, is that co-production for Unscripted is seeing a major upswing as both streamers and linear broadcasters revisit the potential of formattable Reality and light entertainment shows.