The Content London annual development market and conference brought together content creators, producers, commissioners and distributors from all corners of the world to discuss the trends, issues and programming that will define the coming years.

A key creative feature of the event is the annual Studio21 Drama Series Script Competition which saw finalists – Mahad Ali, Simon Kay, Sally Jane Pitts, Harry Mould, Katy Lynam, and writing team Berri George and Travis Carter – taking to the stage and compellingly pitching their projects and fielding questions from the panel of judges. The winner was announced at the C21 International Drama Awards, closing the conference.

Despite the challenges facing the industry over the last year, there was a feeling of optimism around the three and a half days of Content London 23. The multiple sessions and panelists gave invaluable insights into where the scripted market currently is positioned.

The State of the Drama Nation session included high profile panelists Jane Tranter CEO Bad Wolf, Andy Harries CEO Left Bank Pictures, Laura Kennedy, CEO Avalon, Dan March, Managing Partner Dynamic Television. In a risk averse climate, it was felt that buyers need marketable content, including a big name cast to do all the promo. Laura feared that fewer buyers will invest in new voices although Jane thought there was interest in newer or big names and less in mid-level talent. Buyers want something sure in the package. Jane advocated giving people a chance who haven’t yet had a chance and to let other voices be heard – to resounding applause from the audience.

Jane said that commissioners never want to hear that you’re pitching them a period piece although they still commission it. We know that they want crime. Both Andy and Laura felt you can’t develop according to what commissioners want today. You back the talent and stories writers want to tell and then try to find the right home for them. Andy observed that ‘most of our success has come from original ideas’.

In the session, Writers to Watch, four writers – Cat Jones, Zara Hayes, Nicole Amarteifio and Kodie Bedford – talked about their writing journeys. For Cat this had involved ten years writing for television including series episodes and this year she has written her own series for the BBC – The Jetty. Zara moved to fiction from documentaries and directing and now is in a unique collaboration with Eleventh Hour Films. Nicole succeeded through launching her hit web series An African City and Kodie talked of her heritage of storytelling. She started out as a journalist then moved into documentaries and then fiction. She stressed the importance of working with a trusted producer who has your back.

Hayley McKenzie was moderator on a session about upcoming comedy We Might Regret This with panelists Ash Atalla CEO, Roughcut TV, Jon Petrie BBC Director of Comedy and Alix Jaffe Exec Vice President Village Roadshow Entertainment. The session explored this new comedy drama inspired by the lives and experiences of its creators Kyla Harris and Lee Getty. It’s a highly relatable, authentic comedy about messy relationships that are further complicated by disability. Kyla stars in the show alongside Sally Phillips and Darren Boyd. The session covered the development, financing and production process to build a show of scale and as Jon said a show that ‘feels aspirational, progressive and most importantly funny.’

A core theme of the event was How AI Will Change the Content Business. C21’s David Jenkinson explained ‘The reason we put this at the heart of this year’s event is simple: it will change everything. And soon.’ This along with the impact of Next Gen Creators who are generating bigger audiences than any producer or channel in the room and making their content on a shoestring, it is no wonder that brands are now focused on engaging with them rather than television.

To reflect and support these themes, C21 is launching The Next Gen Creator Festival and The AI Festival, both of which will run alongside Content London 2024. They will both be supported by new content strands that will connect the emerging community and the technology with players from the traditional business.

And the traditional broadcasters appear to be aware of this shift, with the BBC collaborating with TikTok on a Creators Lab, to develop creator talent that have build their brand on TikTok. Though it’s worth noting that while the YA-specific platforms and channels are still commisisioning for that audience, there was a noticeable absence in the broader channels and streamers citing any desire for YA drama and scripted content this year.

Other themes that emerged over the three days demonstrated that the demand for content is still there but maybe more at the right price point. Drama is a driver and Britbox’s Reemah Sakaan described scripted as the engine room. Collaborations and co pros are more prevalent and platforms are more willing to collaborate. There was a demand for commercial ideas that are as broad as possible. Relying on the passion of the writer or producer is still a critical element. True crime is popular at the moment. Local for local came up a lot and Sky showtime called for authentic local material that is impactful. And it is good if it can travel a little bit too. (although they have no plans to launch in the UK). Sky studios are looking for universal themes, strong concepts and returnables.

‘We are having a crisis now, but drama is not dead…. Drama is so important. Together we can create stories that can change lives – especially now when the world is so polarised. We can show hope through our stories, curate conversations and come up with new perspectives that will help us to understand that we humans are much more alike than we think.’ NRK’s Marianne Furevold-Boland.

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Hayley McKenzie