In this digital era, where the advent of streaming has resulted in a massive defection of people consuming broadcast television and film, one frequently asked question is…’have audiences started viewing more foreign content?’
One word: yes. But this is not necessarily new. And one individual, Valentina Martelli, is actively showcasing the value of the international marketplace via The ITTV International Forum, organized by Good Girls Planet. Following the recent gathering at the 80th Venice International Film Festival, ITTV will return to Los Angeles from October 30th to November 1st for its fifth edition.
Launched in 2019 to promote global co-production opportunities and facilitate distribution, The ITTV International Forum focuses on the Italian audiovisual market and the connections between its international counterparts. ITTV encourages the creativity and innovation of the international audiovisual culture within Hollywood. It explores how new technologies are applied to the industry (with an emphasis on the growing reality of metaverse and blockchain-based distribution). And it features screenings, panels, networking opportunities, parties, and an awards gala, among other things.
The first ITTV International Award of the year was presented last month to Netflix Italian Originals Chief Tinny Andreatta during the Venice International Film Festival.
“Years ago, I started to notice how things were changing after the shift of Netflix from delivering tapes to becoming a streaming service,” noted Valentina Martelli, who in addition to organizing The ITTV International Forum with Cristina Scognarmillo is an Italian-American television journalist, screenwriter, director, producer, President at IbiscusMedia, and CEO of Good Girls Planet. “At that point, people were increasingly turning to international content. And I decided to create this forum as an ongoing platform of events and connections dedicated to the dynamic world of international TV and cinema production, co-production, and distribution.”
Netflix, no doubt, exemplifies the merits of housing programming content produced outside of the United States (many of which are in languages other than English). And, not surprisingly, there was more demand for international content in the country during the pandemic when the world was in quarantine. Yet, COVID merely strengthened a trend that was already in progress.
The CW, in fact, has shifted its production model from the typical U.S. produced original programming to a scripted slate primarily filled with acquired international content.
“The CW, which was purchased last year by Nexstar, is still serving their dedicated fanbase. But they are also putting a strong emphasis on international partnerships,” said Martelli. “The international focus is a significant advantage for the network right now because these productions operate under their respective territory unions and not under either SAG-AFTRA (the actors’ union) or WGA (the writers’ union).
Now, with the Writers Guild of America strike just settled after almost five months (and the SAG-AFTRA strike still going on), interest in the availability of already produced product internationally is likely to surge as the dual platforms, linear and digital, search for original scripted programming options.
Whether it is the rise of streaming platforms or the rush for international imports brought on by a worldwide production shortage, the pattern in recent years (and prior to the pandemic) points to the audience taking advantage of the wealth of international programming options. On the creative side, meanwhile, are the U.S. production companies and the networks who are getting more invested in the production process for these international shows.
The Merits of Internationally Produced Content
Pre and post the writers and actors strikes, the international market — along with distribution to cable providers, home video, and VOD services — offers a particularly attractive model for acquiring original programming inventory (many of which consist of multiple seasons). And the availability of the seemingly endless well of product across the globe gives the plethora of U.S. outlets both an alternative and a potentially more cost-effective option.
“We drive German cars, we watch our favorite shows on Japanese TVs, and we long for the coolest of Italian fashion, among other interests, so why wouldn’t we consume content created beyond our borders?”, questioned Mike Tankel, partner/optimist at the marketing and development firm To Be Continued. “Technology has certainly brought us all closer together, close enough to show us that we are more alike than not. And with more people using closed captioning subtitles, a foreign language is no longer a barrier.”
In a 2022 survey of 1,200 people, language learning company Preply determined that 50 percent of Americans used subtitles and closed captions for much of the time they watch content.
“One thing that struck me was how often my husband, who is American born and raised, was watching international TV shows,” noted Martelli. “That was a result of the streaming services, which opened the windows to international content coming from every possible side of the world. There are so many amazing international series out there that people might not have watched had COVID not sped up the process.”
“Now, as a result of these two strikes, I believe that the current awareness of the international marketplace is further accelerating,” she added. “We are seeing a reshaping of the film and TV industry, not only from the content perspective, but also the incorporation of elements like the metaverse, AI (artificial intelligence) and blockchain. All of this comes under one word: international.”
In addition to the ITTV International Forum, Martelli has launched an educational program called The Showrunner Lab, which organized with the Toscana Film commission is a laboratory to mentor and create new showrunners in Italy.
“If you want to work with international, you have to make sure you have the right people to work with you,” said Martelli. “I also created a spinoff from ITTV called Tech in Entertainment because of the pivotal role technology is playing right now. And I am launching a podcast called Let Me Call, which will offer short conversations about this international discussion.”
“As a journalist, I am taking all this information and putting together this puzzle to explain to people how things are changing,” she noted. “You can join the ride, or you can fight it. But you can’t deny this rise in international content awareness.”
Coming Up at the ITTV International Forum in Los Angeles
This year ITTV announced a new collaboration with the Consulate General of Canada, with the plan to bolster these programming incentives between the North American, Italian, and European audiovisual industries. How the labor strikes in Hollywood have impacted the global entertainment, of course, is a topic of note at the upcoming gathering in Los Angeles. And the speakers will include Erik Barmack, Founder of Wild Sheep Content; Sean Furst, CEO of GPS Studios; Dante di Loreto, President US, Fremantle; David Eilenberg, Head of Content, Roku Media; and Leo Matchett, CEO, Decentralized Pictures Foundation.
“Hollywood has always thought of itself as the major exporter of content. Well, guess what? They are turning into a huge importer of content as well, which defines what lie ahead in the future,” said Martelli. “If they don’t understand, they are going to miss a huge opportunity. Ignoring the word international right now is a big mistake.”
“When the world sees a story it can relate to, where it comes from is secondary to the inherent opportunity it offers,” noted Mike Tankel. “A good story is a good story. We don’t care, or necessarily even notice, what the origins are.”