HBO has won international acclaim for Game of Thrones. Fewer people have heard of Mammon.
Yet the Czech drama about a journalist who uncovers the evidence of fraud, implicating his brother, often gets more viewers in the Czech Republic, the bloody adaptation of George R. R. Martin's novels. It's a common phenomenon that helps to explain why HBO is stepping up production of original TV series in Europe and elsewhere outside the US.
For the first time, Time Warner Inc's premium channel is developing country-specific shows from Spain and Scandinavia, a sign of how the global competition for cord-cutters is pushing entertainment giants to produce more foreign-language programming.
“Our local productions are in some cases No. 1 or No. 2, next to the Game of Throne or Westworld, “Bernadette Aulestia, HBO's head of global distribution, said in an interview, referring to HBO's other big series, a dystopian sci-fi western. “Those shows are huge drivers of the service.”
But HBO is not alone, and that's also driving the expansion effort. Europe has become the new battlefield in the global streaming wars. Amazon.com Inc recently hired its first head of the original television for Europe and is developing local shows in France and Spain. Last month, Netflix Inc. unveiled seven new original series on the continent, including product from the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. A recently introduced by the German sci-fi thriller, Dark, is watched nine times as much outside Germany as it is within, Netflix said.
HBO is available in 17 European countries, in many cases via traditional cable and satellite TV services. But in Spain and the Nordic countries, it's available only online, making it easier to cancel if it does not offer enough compelling shows.
HBO's global approach has just been exported American programs such as The Sopranos. Like their counterparts at Netflix and Amazon, HBO executives are realized, they need to be supplemented with localization and localization.
This year, HBO is creating 250 hours of original programming for its foreign subscribers, including shows, movies and documentaries – a 40% increase over last year. The channel will make 14 original scripted series outside the US, up from 10 two years ago.
The Spanish drama Patria is one of them. It's based on the best-selling novel in two families during the Basque conflict. TV showrunners, Aitor Gabilondo, creator of The Prince, a cop show that was the country's largest primetime series in 2016, according to Variety.
Another HBO project is the Swedish comedy Gosta, which tells the story of a child psychologist in Stockholm who rents a cottage in the woods and tries to be the nicest person in the world.
HBO Spain and HBO Nordic. Both of them are expected to be released next year on their country's streaming services. Each of the online channels has more than 1 million subscribers and offers a mix of popular American HBO shows and acquired hits from other programmers.
Some existing HBO shows in Europe include the Polish drama Wataha, which translates to “the pack” in English but is also known as The Border. It's a show about a guard unit that patrols the Polish border with Ukraine. Meanwhile, in Mexico, HBO has backed Sr. Avila, a drama which tells the tale of a hit man who struggles with personal demons. Both programs have at times drawn larger audiences in their home countries than have HBO's flagship American series.
HBO said introducing homegrown programs often leads to a surge in subscribers. From 2001 to 2004, for instance, the channel saw 16% subscription growth in Latin America. In 2004, HBO unveiled its first international scripted series, the Argentine detective show Epitafios. Over the next four years, subscriptions in Latin America grew by a whopping 53%.
To be fair, HBO's efforts abroad are not totally new. It already gets about one-fourth of its US $ 6bil (RM23.70bil) in the annual revenue from outside the US. The channel, which may end up being owned by AT & T Includes on the outcome of a US antitrust fight, is available in 67 countries, including Asia, and has 142 million subscribers worldwide, including its sister channel, Cinemax, and streaming services. By comparison, Netflix has about 125 million subscribers while Amazon Prime has more than 100 million.
HBO executives said they believe global expansion is a two-way street, predicting that their foreign-language shows could add to its roughly 40 million US subscribers. For instance, Wasteland, an HBO series from the Czech Republic. While that's a far cry from the season finale of the Game of Thrones, which drew 16.5 million viewers, HBO said it's in the US.
For now, only a few European HBO shows are available to its American viewers. But next year, the channel plans to take the unprecedented step of making its entire international catalog – about 40 series total – part of its US offerings.
“What people are most interested in is the quality of the show,” Aulestia said. “
HBO's creative push into Europe is being led by Antony Root, 64, a former Sony Pictures executive. Based in London, Root is joined seven years ago with the goal of delivering what he calls “the HBO promise”: programming that is “distinctive, original, bold and having a strong point of view”. Equally important, he said, are shows with a local flavor.
Root has local production heads in the European countries who have deep ties with local writers, directors and producers. In the Nordic region, that person is Hanne Palmquist, who joined HBO two years ago from the Danish Film Institute. HBO's point person in Spain is Miguel Salvat, a former director of content at Canal Plus, the Spanish satellite-TV company.
“We engage with local audiences in a more intimate and profound way when we make shows that derive from the local culture, local language groups, and when they see local actors, they're familiar with,” Root said in an interview.
The channel's global endeavor, however, is not without hurdles. While camera crews or directors can be found in some parts of Europe it's hard to find local writers. HBO executives have got to to close this up with the organization of television writing classes in the European film schools, sponsoring film festivals and recruiting writers to work on local adaptations of existing shows. For example, In Treatment, an Israeli show about the therapist that HBO is adapted for the USaudience, has been remade in four European countries.
“It's a good way to get people to understand what our values are,” Root said.
HBO also hosts scriptwriting contests across Europe to find new talent. One more competition in Croatia. The winner, Marjan Alčevski, was awarded a six-episode HBO series based on his idea of four strangers. That show, Success, is being made for TV by Oscar-winning Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanović. It went into production in March. – Bloomberg