Clash between streaming services and broadcasters spurs TV renaissance

FLORENCE (Italy) • The once disruptive relationship between streaming producers like Netflix and national broadcasters is inspiring a global renaissance in television drama, says a producer of blockbuster series such as the Medici saga.

"This is the best time for television, period," Frank Spotnitz said at the Medici Palace in Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance and the setting for his latest dramatic bonanza, Medici: The Magnificent.

"Everywhere. It's the best time ever. There's this explosion in drama, not just in drama, but also in high-quality drama," the 57-year-old producer said in a interview last week .

"But I think it's even more exciting in Europe and I think you could argue it's especially exciting in Italy," added Spotnitz, who started off writing for the 1990s series The X-Files and, more recently, created the hit Amazon series based on Philip K Dick's book, The Man In The High Castle.

The second Medici series, one episode of which was premiered to journalists in Florence last Wednesday, will be shown first by Italian state broadcaster RAI, then streamed by Netflix.

It is produced by Italy's Lux Vide, France's Altice and Spotnitz's London-based Big Light Productions, an example of European cooperation, made by a largely Italian crew and Italian-British cast, shot in English and later to be dubbed in Italian.

The Medici series charting the power-plays, backstabbing, sexual intrigue and artistic environment of Renaissance Florence as Lorenzo De Medici (played by teenage heart-throb Daniel Sharman) rises to power, climaxes with an attempt on Lorenzo's life in the city's cathedral at the hands of the rival Pozzi family, headed by Jacopo Pazzi (played by Sean Bean).

Just as the spirit of competition and patronage against a background of sporadic bloodletting created the Renaissance, so also, the often tense relationship between traditional state broadcasters and Internet streaming services is now bearing fruit.

"They've been disruptive. They've completely changed the way television is made. You're seeing that all over the world," said Spotnitz, with traditional studios from Hollywood to Europe having to adapt quickly and viewers are the undisputed winners because of the choices available.

One of Spotnitz's upcoming projects is Leonardo, which portrays the Renaissance polymath as a gay outsider and is being produced by The Alliance, a co-production group of top European broadcasters RAI, France Televisions and Germany's ZDF, created specifically earlier this year to combat streaming giants like Netflix.

"I don't think the traditional broadcasters need to be in conflict with streaming services. I think that far more often than not, they work in partnership," said Spotnitz, noting that, at the end of the day, the rivals provide different products.

"Netflix and Amazon are coming into these home countries, especially Netflix right now, and making shows in French and German and Italian, which is great, and they're shows that the traditional broadcasters would never make," he said.

"But for the day-to-day programming, the traditional broadcasters are doing things that the streamers would never do, so I think it's important that they are valued and remain strong and continue to draw in younger audiences."

Spotnitz has worked in Europe for eight years, living in Paris and commuting to work in London.

"The tricky part of being a producer in Europe... is that we don't have these giant media corporations based in Europe (Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV)... so you have to still cobble together financing from different sources," he said.

"On the other hand, you're still truly independent, which is a big plus."

The first Medici series, starring Dustin Hoffman, was a huge success, particularly in Italy, where it drew many young viewers away from their phones and tablets and back to the television.

"That has been the challenge for traditional broadcasters, not just in Europe, but in the United States as well, the ageing of their audiences," said Spotnitz.

"I think the thing they need to do is to keep doing shows... which will draw in younger viewers so they watch television as well and not just streaming," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2018, with the headline 'Clash between streaming services and broadcasters spurs TV renaissance'. Print Edition | Subscribe