Keren, this year has been quite successful for your company. Could you summarize the main highlights for KI in 2017?
Well, the year is not yet over, but it has indeed been a busy year for us, both in terms of our reach and our productions. In our mission to connect our content with key markets and local audiences, we launched our global millennial-facing Keshet Digital Studios (KDS), which bridges the gap between digital and linear programming with a mix of established and emerging talent, voices, partners, IP and emerging technologies to find novel forms of expression; Keshet Films, our global feature development and production division; Keshet MX, our subsidiary in Mexico City created to cement our commitment to the Latin American and US Hispanic markets; and our expansion into kids’ programming.
We acquired Germany’s leading producer Tresor TV, in our continuing quest to grow our European production footprint; expanded our presence in Asia with a new sales (and potentially production) office in Mumbai; and made out first foray into the mixed-reality VR space with our sports title Racket:NX.
It has also been an exciting season for Keshet Studios in the US with 3 pilot pick-ups and two fall 2017 drama series pickups: The Brave, co-produced with Universal Television for NBC, and Wisdom of the Crowd, co-produced with CBS Television Studios and Universal Television for CBS. We also saw pre-production begin with our co-producers HBO and Israel’s Movie Plus on HBO’s upcoming series, Stray Weeds.
That’s one busy year! Which are Keshet’s top sellers in 2017 and what will be your main titles at this MIPCOM?
For starters, Masters of Dance. Our shiny floor talent show, which was a summer hit on Keshet Broadcasting with a season average share of 35%, also attracted 3.7 million views on our VOD web portal MAKO, which is astonishing when you consider there are only 5 million people with phones in the country. It sees four renowned professional dance masters – established dancers, creators or choreographers – who each take on the challenge of forming a new company of dancers to compete in a series of epic head-to-head battles.
It is joined by Domination, a primetime gameshow also recently launched on Keshet. The player in the studio tests their general knowledge, picking their battles against different groups from the rest of the country – from taxi drivers to tinder users. Meanwhile, players at home can test themselves against the contestant and the groups – as some 10% of viewers did in Israel using the show’s app.
Celebrity Showmance from Keshet UK is a high concept comedy entertainment show which shines a light on the public antics of celebrity couples, social media and fake news. In this innovative show, celebrities are challenged to go to extreme lengths to imply they are in a new relationship with one another, all played out under the glare of social media. Little do the public know, their likes and shares make them the show’s unwitting judges.
From true crime specialists Woodcut Media and Nanny Jo Productions comes the hard-hitting, taboo true crime series fronted by renowned child behavioural expert Jo Frost (Supernanny, Family Matters), Jo Frost on Killer Kids. It looks into the unsettling circumstances that can lead a child to kill.
Also from Keshet’s production network is the much anticipated second season of family drama The A Word. The Fifty Fathoms and Keshet UK drama is set to launch this fall following an incredible first season which out-performed its slot average on BBC One week after week and enjoyed a successful transmission on SundanceTV and resounding praise in the UK and US media. From Belgium’s deMENSEN comes the critically acclaimed dystopian social satire, Generation B. A wild and thought-provoking look at a society where the deprived younger generation, carrying the weight of the new financial crisis, stages a huge rebellion against the country’s baby boomer leadership. We are also offering The Brave which recently premiered on NBC, increasing its timeslot by 20% year on year, and the arresting Keshet drama Commandments which sees a group of soldiers defy the strict conventions of their closed orthodox societies and join the army, torn between an aggressive military system, an equally strict religious world and the forbidden temptations of secular life..
KI also brings its slate of successful kids programming from Ananey Communications Group and Nutz Productions. Ananey has created some of Israel’s biggest kids TV hits airing on Nickelodeon, including the award-winning daily live-action teen drama The Greenhouse (the first Israeli kids format commissioned by NETFLIX), alongside the fantastical suspense series Spell Keepers, and the kids’ comedy Bed & Biscuit, both of which are in production for a second season.
You have been actively investing in increasing your international presence through acquisitions and partnerships. What will be Keshet’s strategy for international growth in 2018?
I would say organic growth (take the Indian office, Keshet MX and KDS for example) and partnerships rather than acquisitions. Looking forward, we are planning to continue to do that and ramp up our co-development and co-production partnerships, as well as increasing the amount of third-party content in our catalog, in addition to stepping up our in-house content offerings through every regional subsidiary. We’ve had great experiences by partnering with companies who share our values and passion for creating in Mexico, Argentina, Chile and the US Hispanic market and we are looking forward to forming more strategic partnerships of this kind, where we are bringing Israeli talent and our knowledge in production and distribution, and pairing it with channels and producers who stand out and make incredible contributions in their markets.
Israel remains one of the big content exporters in the world but the local market is going through serious changes. How will this affect your business?
We see these changes and we’re addressing them head on. Keshet is a content house - one of the foremost exporters of content in the world - and it is getting ready to move to a seven-day broadcasting schedule which will increase our IP by offering more series and proven formats. The Israeli market is small and limited but we have managed to stand out by creating original, and even daring IP – both in Israel and territories where we have established a presence – and that has translated to the rest of the world including through shows like False Flag, Prisoners of War, Rising Star and BOOM.
You have content across all genres. Is there a specific genre that you still haven’t explored and want to venture into?
We’re already very active in all genres, but what we love to do is smash genres together or create content outside of the usual categories. Showmance is a good example of a comedy entertainment/high concept gameshow “hybrid”. We love to blur those lines and create content that smashes together several genres, or goes outside of normal categories completely. I am hoping to see this also manifest in the premium doc category. Keshet works with such talented story tellers be it fiction or true stories, and we’d like to take these and create docu one offs/series that will resonate on a global scale.
Television is in a state of transformation. Are broadcasters also changing their buying preferences?
Although the market is always changing, one thing stays true for broadcasters: everyone is looking for tentpole entertainment series. Budgets are in general on the decline, and buyers are more “picky” in terms of acquiring formats, as well as finished tape for that matter. But they can still spot a high value proposition when presented to them.
What is the future of television and where do you see your company in a couple of years?
Television is changing in many ways, and will continue to evolve even more (I think we are witnessing only the beginning of this evolution) not least of which is how it is consumed. We have been pursuing a wide range of digital-focused initiatives across our business and, through the recently-launched Keshet Digital Studios, we’ve been developing best-in-class original programming for millennial/young adult audiences. We are creating engaging, boundary-pushing content alongside a broad range of partners, both in the US and internationally. Although we are creating more digital-first content and constantly innovating in the form of new partnerships, new show types and different distribution models, the core of our business -- a focus on well-crafted storytelling -- remains the same. And this will never change and what I believe will allow us to achieve success in this evolution of our business. In a couple of years, we see ourselves continuing to iterate without losing that focus, and expanding the significance of our reach in both established territories and new frontiers.
Rachel, The Brave debuted on NBC on Monday, September 25 with nearly 6 million viewers in the 10 pm slot against heavy competition. Are you happy with the results and the first reviews?
Yes, because of the overall positive response. It was fun to see the live reactions of those watching the show and posting on Twitter. And thank you to The Washington Post for putting The Brave on its “10 new shows to watch” list. It was very important to us and the show’s creator, Dean Georgaris, that we capture an authentic experience of how these operatives might function while still trying to entertain and engage a broadcast audience. It’s a tricky balance but the writers, directors and crew have worked tirelessly to make each mission feel unique.
Tell us a little bit more about how the idea for the series was born; is it based on real events? What makes your series stand out from other projects with similar premise?
Avi Nir, CEO of Keshet Media Group, had wanted to do a military themed show capitalizing on some amazing real undercover stories. Dean Georgaris had also wanted to do a military show about intelligence gathering and deployment. Coming at this story from these two perspectives is a unique driver for the show.
How did NBC decide to come on board and commission the series, was it a long process or did they jump right away?
Keshet Studios has a first-look deal with NBC. They commissioned the pilot script from Dean as soon as he pitched it in the room.
As you mentioned, The Brave comes from Keshet Media Group head and Homeland exec producer Avi Nir. To what do you attribute the success of Israeli television content internationally?
Although The Brave is an original idea, Israeli content is very adaptable and Avi led the way in bringing it to the rest of the world. Israel is a lot like the US but it’s just a very tiny democracy. It speaks a totally crazy language, and is filled with a lot of intellectuals and artists. Because the television market there is small, they don’t produce a lot, yet what they do make and develop is very sophisticated and universal.
Anne Heche, Mike Vogel, Sofia Pernas, Tate Ellington are some of the cast of the series. How long did it take you to assemble the cast and did you have any difficulties in finding actors for some of the roles?
We have a brilliant casting director, John Levey, who guided us and we couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. When we met Mike Vogel, he told us about his best friend in the military who is part of a team like the fictional one portrayed on The Brave. He told us that if he wasn’t an actor, he most likely would be in the military just like his friend. We found Anne brilliant because, in addition to her being such a talented actress, she is both incredibly strong and very capable of cracking a joke at the right time. And I consider it a real coup for us to have so many actors who can communicate beautifully in multiple languages on our show: Sophia Pernas speaks five, and Hadi Tabble and Natacha Karam also speak many. It really takes a remarkable cast like this to be able to accurately portray the kind of teams that can covertly go into foreign countries to gather information and carry out their missions.
The series was originally titled For God and Country. What made you change the title of the project?
Every time we used that working title and talked about the show, no one knew what it was about. We tried a bunch of others until NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke nailed it. She loved The Brave and she was right. It’s not only our title, it’s our theme.