FNE at TIFF: HBO Kicks off Industry Section with Emphasis on Original Programming


    CLUJ-NAPOCA: With fall 2017 season two renewals of its series in Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic, and a new Polish series scheduled to debut in 2018, HBO Europe is underscoring its move away from formats and into original programmes.

    Putting HBO Europe’s presence in CEE territories into perspective, HBO Executive VP of original programming and production Antony Root told FNE, “We’re coming up to the 10th anniversary of original documentary production, and our 100th documentary is coming up soon.” Since its first foray into documentary production, HBO Europe has moved into formats, coproductions and most recently original TV series programming in the region. “It’s a very important region for us,” Root said, pointing out that HBO Europe is producing one dramatic program in four of its CEE territories every year, and is positioning to move into its fifth region via HBO Adria covering the Balkan territories.

    At a masterclass led by HBO Europe VP of drama development Steve Matthews and VP of original programming for Central Europe Jonathan Young, held during the Transilvania IFF industry days programme running through 10 June 2017, Young said, “The format initiative is reaching a natural end.” He explained that going into formats was a good way for HBO to kickstart production in the region, but noted, “Formats are expensive,” and “the rights position is unfavourable.” He added, “The shows that have really landed are original…. We need more original voices.”

    HBO Europe premiered the first episode of the second season of its successful Romanian series Shadows / Umbre by writer/director Bogdan Mirica at TIFF on 8 June. Mirica is representative of the young generation of CEE writers and directors who are moving between TV and film and whom HBO is nurturing through development initiatives such as the HBO Adria First Draft Contest. Development on two TV projects from Croatia and Serbia, the winners of the contest, is currently underway. In the Czech Republic, HBO Europe has renewed Head over Heels / As po usi, a romantic comedy with Czech star Ana Geislerova and directed by Jan Hrebejk. In Poland, HBO will broadcast the second season of the action crime series The Border / Wataha written by Piotr Szymanek. Poland will also see the fall 2018 debut of Blinded by the Lights by director and co-writer Krzysztof Skonieczny. Young added, “The first shows in HBO Adria will be original programming.” Matthews stressed that HBO’s goal was developing teams of writers and producers to work on original programming.

    As for the future, Root said, “We are always aware of and looking at new opportunities (in CEE), but we’ve got it pretty well covered.” However, one game-changer is a current topic for the company. HBO is considering how to handle the move to digital, which is just taking off in CEE territories. “It’s a very exciting time,” Young said. “Here it’s still very fresh,” compared to the situation in the US. Matthews added that digital “is good for young writers” in the CEE region, making TV a sellers’ market for hot young talents. The topics of digital broadcasting and further integration of CEE territories into the HBO Europe family are likely to be high on the agenda at HBO’s upcoming corporate meeting.