Peter, Stéphane Courbit created Banijay Group in January 2008 so you are celebrating 10 years in the business this year. What have been the most challenging moments for Banijay during this time and for you, personally, since you became COO in 2016?
The 10-year anniversary serves as the perfect occasion for us all to reflect on how far the business has come. There is no doubt the content market has changed significantly in the years since the inception of Banijay Group and that evolution continues to present challenges but as a relatively young, independent business, we remain agile enough to adapt in line with the needs of the industry and old enough to withstand the shifts in the market around us.
Since the word go, Stéphane Courbit has utilized the growth of the international market to build a business with entrepreneurialism and creativity at its core. Beginning the M&A activity in France, he then went on to identify opportunities in Spain, Germany and the Nordics and from there, the footprint continued to grow. Venturing into new territories, there was always going to be cultural differences and language-based challenges, but it is safe to say we have always overcome any barriers to grow a network of like-minded producers that all excel in IP creation for the local and increasingly, the global market.
Ten years on and we have a business that spans 16 territories, with over 70 companies in the portfolio, making it the world’s largest independent content producer and distributor, with a catalog comprising over 20.000 hours of content.
Since I joined the Group in 2016, the most significant development has understandably been the rise of FAANGs. With the likes of Netflix challenging the typical European content model, as a business, we have had to adapt and respond. Whereas once we took for granted our ability to travel IP around the world, one buyer at a time, no longer does this one-size-fits-all approach work. Instead, we must look at our slates, talk to our buyers both locally and globally and treat each piece of content individually. Innovation is key with deal structures and already we are working with the new SVOD players to identify their needs and partner with them accordingly, while trying to ensure the best return on our IP. This approach also stands for the traditional media groups who are now buying for all of their platforms at once – linear, SVOD and online.
Across the board we are in conversation with these new players. In the U.S., Bunim Murray has produced Ball in the Family, which stands as Facebook Watch’s most popular title to date and over on Netflix, the same business has already delivered a number of seasons of Bill Nye Saves the World. And these efforts are now also spanning our non-English territories as the buyers continue to grow their local pools of content for the global marketplace. In Germany for instance, Brainpool has just had meta-comedy, Neuland, featuring David Hasselhoff, commissioned by YouTube and in the Netherlands, Temptation Island VIPs has launched on local platform, Videoland.
Over in Scripted, the golden era continues. With demand remaining high, we are seeing budgets continuing to rise and access to talent becoming more of a struggle, which has an impact on timescales and overall costs. Having said that, with all eyes on Scripted, we have the perfect opportunity to continue our drive in developing the next big entertainment show and are investing a lot of our efforts in bringing new Unscripted formats to the market.
Banijay’s merger with Zodiak Media, completed in February 2016, turned Banijay Group the largest independent content producer in the world with revenues of around $1 billion. What are the positive and negative sides to holding this title?
The merger with Zodiak acted as a key turning point for the Group and saw our footprint expand exponentially overnight. Expanding our reach and bolstering our distribution might, the deal strategically positioned Banijay as a leading player in the content ecosystem.
Standing as the “largest independent” is a huge triumph and it has been incredibly beneficial in attracting and retaining talent. We value entrepreneurialism and as such, encourage producers to operate autonomously, while giving them the assistance they need with distribution and central functions. This combined with having producers at the helm with Stéphane Courbit and CEO Marco Bassetti, who truly understand the up and down nature of the business, makes Banijay an incredibly appealing home for talent.
Since the expansion in 2016, we have also witnessed huge success with much of our catalog both within and outside of our own footprint. With a huge distribution powerhouse behind us, we have most recently seen Versailles hit over 135 countries, Temptation Island take on a new lease of life in the USA and Germany, Wife Swap return to the USA and Wanna Bet? making a comeback in Italy. Additionally, in 2017, we acquired Castaway Productions, which has brought us further worldwide success with Survivor now enjoying 17 versions, with further remakes set to follow.
All in all, we see our independence as a huge positive. We can close deals efficiently, attract and retain talent and travel a show across our own footprint incredibly quickly.
Is Banijay financially healthy?
We would never comment on the financial matters of the business. What I will say, is that the company is in a strong position for the future. We have experienced significant expansion and continue to grow steadily via talent partnerships, acquisitions and distribution success.
You have been gradually consolidating and expanding your operations in the UK, Germany and Italy. Are you planning similar moves in other and unexplored territories?
It has been another busy year for Banijay with acquisitions and start-ups across a number of key territories. In the UK, we have established a Scripted offering and will continue looking at growth opportunities over in Unscripted. Elsewhere, we started Banijay Studios Italy and brought in Paolo Bassetti to oversee both Italy and Spain with the view to strengthening the operations there. Similarly, in Germany, we started Banijay Productions Germany alongside Brainpool and brought in Marcus Wolter to run the country’s operations. In doing so, we expect further M&A activity there in the coming year.
I have also been heavily focused on building our operation in India. Alongside existing SOL India, we hired Deepak Dhar to lead Banijay Asia. Having already successfully secured a number of commissions in the market, which include on the Scripted side: Hostages, Union and Good Cop Bad Cop, and on the Unscripted side: Dating in the Dark, ARRived and The Great Telugu Laughter Challenge, we expect the business to continue to thrive and diversify its burgeoning slate. Our M&A strategy has always been carefully targeted, and we will continue with this approach.
Which are Banijay’s biggest markets and where do you see opportunities for further growth? How about China?
China is an extremely complicated market to break into and for now, we have no significant plans for any substantial moves there. Our distribution business continues sale conversations in the country and for Banijay Kids, it remains the strongest territory in this respect. As mentioned previously, India will continue to be a focus, and we will also be looking to Canada and Mexico.
We all know that ‘Content is King’ but at the end of the day it is the volume of produced hours that drives sales for companies like yours. Still, how important is it for Banijay to develop original IP?
High-quality storytelling and entertainment are at the heart of our business and we remain incredibly committed to developing new IP that has the potential to travel.
While we have had recent success with the production of a number of reboots, we are also concentrating on creating the next big entertainment format for market. With this in mind, we continue to invest in creativity and have introduced a number of incentivized schemes to encourage movement in this area. The Creative Fund sees us support 10 new Unscripted pilots by the end of 2019 in addition to our other scheme which financially recognizes individuals responsible for the creation of IP which witnesses strong cross-territory pick-up.
Beyond incentivization, we also work hard to identify moments in the year where we can gather our teams to steer creativity. The Creative, Digital, Scripted and Development Boards, alongside the Production Exchanges, were all devised to drive idea sharing, co-productions, best practice and relationship building across the Group. To date, each of these events have resulted in successful IP generation and collaboration.
In addition to collaboration, we focus on hiring and retaining the best creative talent, building strong relationships throughout the industry and supporting our shows from initiation to distribution. And the result? Great shows coming through the pipeline like The Duo, which we are launching at MIPCOM. The 60’ entertainment show was created by the Group’s Mastiff Denmark for DR1 and plays on the unpredictability of human chemistry. Diverse singers are brought together in an innovative audition to discover unique and surprising vocal partnerships. In each episode, the singers cannot see who they’ve been chosen to sing with – a giant curtain divides them and only when two voices combine to create one magical sound is the curtain raised and the singers are revealed to each other. It has all the satisfying elements of a classic talent show but combines it with the growing appetite for brilliant storytelling, authenticity and emotional connections.
The global entertainment market is now mainly growing thanks to the major online platforms. You recently announced a global content collaboration with Twitter. Could you tell us a little bit more about this partnership and what is your digital strategy?
Back in 2017, we hired Lionel Abbo as Head of Digital for the Group and since then, we have really begun assembling our digital strategy. Relatively risk adverse, we are still taking gradual steps to build our reputation in this area, but we did recently close a global content collaboration with Twitter.
Aimed at monetizing the Group’s content on Twitter and driving effective brand engagement efforts, the deal acted as one of the first global distribution collaborations with the platform. The agreement will see our global brands work with Twitter’s regional entities to develop dedicated offerings for brands both locally and globally, with a specific focus on our key properties which include Survivor, Temptation Island, Fort Boyard, Crystal Maze and All Against 1. The move follows our acceptance that as the content landscape and models continue to evolve, we must look at new and innovative ways to carefully target and engage audiences.
While digital is very much on our radar, we are taking a 360° approach to the creation, production and distribution of content worldwide. Building on our strength as entertainers and storytellers, we have also been looking at brand partnership opportunities across the footprint and to date, successes have included a partnership with Gant in the Nordics for YouTube and in the U.S., a CoverGirl collaboration to create Allure Incubator. We have also invested in The Blast in the U.S., Non-Stop People in France and earlier this year, in Shauna Events.
How closely do you follow the major M&A deals in the industry like the Disney-Fox and AT&T/Turner mergers or Sky’s upcoming sale? How will they affect the global entertainment industry?
As a global content business, of course we follow the M&A movements of our competitors. For some time, the industry has been in a state of mass consolidation and I do not see that changing for some time as the market continues to condense. With this, while the pool of groups operating shrinks, their strength and global power grows. Setting up new businesses, as well as acquiring existing entities, has resulted in continued competition across all markets globally and despite new buyers coming through, the industry remains crowded. As such, there are increasing delays in access to talent and budgets are just continuing to push up. However, opportunity has never been greater, particularly following the endless regulatory overturns in line with the mass consolidation movement worldwide, and we are committed to taking advantage of the increasing content demand we are faced with.
Endemol Shine is also up for sale. Is Banijay interested?
Some analysts now say eSports is already ‘The Next Big Thing’, others – VR and AR, while the US media giants remain focused on taking their content to on-demand platforms. What is Banijay’s strategic view on these developments and how do you plan to position your company in five years’ time?
It is impossible to predict the future but there is no doubt the market will continue to evolve and for us, it will remain “business as usual”. Regardless of the platform, we will continue to innovate and develop and distribute high-quality 360° IP for all key buyers in the market. While we keep an eye on technology, we will only exploit it if it genuinely enhances an idea.