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It’s not just the pandemic that is giving the made-for-television film industry a boost – the growth of streaming, the availability of top talent and changing audience demands are also factors, reports Ruth Lawes.

At the 2021 Oscars, it was not a large Hollywood studio that collected the most nominations but Netflix. In total, the global streamer won a total of 36 Oscars, with his film Mank, starring Gary Oldman as Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, representing 10 of them.

Netflix ultimately took home seven awards, the most wins for a single studio since 2017. This is a dramatic resumption of events, given that the SVoD platform received its first Oscar nomination ago. barely eight years old, when her doc The Square was nominated for best feature documentary. .

With Netflix now surpassing 200 million subscribers worldwide and enjoying a steady stream of awards and critical praise for its films, it’s clear that Hollywood studios are no longer monopolizing the movie industry. Meanwhile, traditional broadcasters continue to order made-for-TV movies, and audiences are still turning to the long-running TV movie niches on cable networks such as Lifetime and Hallmark. And this trend is not just in the United States.


“Our films regularly reach 40% [audience share] on French television during the day on TF1 and M6, ”said Louisa Cadywould, senior vice president and head of international distribution at Reel One Entertainment, owned by Newen and A + E Networks. “Our Christmas movie, Christmas on Holly Lane, surpassed the premiere of [Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar-winning hit] The shape of water on Sky Cinema.

When it comes to scrambling for viewers and for rewards, has the distinction blurred between motion pictures and TV movies?

“The line is definitely blurry,” says Nina Maag, head of premium streaming content at Bavaria Fiction in Germany. “The high quality of TV movie production and the subtle decision made by acting and writing talent to move away from feature film talent alone to work with streamers and TV companies means there is much less distinction between films made for large or small screens.

“Reaching out to large audiences to tell entertaining and often important stories is a fundamental goal for all creatives and it is now much less about the medium of dissemination. “

Christmas on Holly Lane
Christmas on Holly Lane

In fact, streamers who order original films have only increased the stock of films made for television, Cadywould explains. “For some, the expression ‘TV movie’ had a certain connotation, which was not so favorable. That’s why streamers like Netflix who commission original movies have helped shift perceptions.

“Some of our latest customers have been encouraged to see the success of the original films on streamers and to see that they perform as well or better than films with an existing profile or famous cast – and for a lower cost. When investors see success on competing platforms, it opens even more doors for us. “

The proliferation of streamers has also led to an increase in demand for TV movies, especially among AVoD platforms and new players who need to stock their libraries, Cadywould adds.

For Rick Barker, UK-based sales manager at DCD Rights, streamers have spearheaded the TV movie renaissance because they offer more flexibility. “In the past, TV movie programming was difficult to fit into the standard daily schedule and they tended to get dropped at the end of a night when there was space without time constraints,” he says.

“The new wave of digital opportunities has revived the format because there are fewer constraints. This gives more flexibility for brands like the Jack Irish franchise of TV movies and series to roll out as a collection. “

On the rocks
On the rocks

It works both ways, with global players using original films as “flagship projects” to attract subscribers, adds Barker. Examples include Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic The Irishman for Netflix and Sofia Coppola’s Apple TV + film On the Rocks, which stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones.

“Streamers like Netflix have realized that lavish, well-broadcasted productions reach their audiences, and with the exclusivity of offering their movies only through their platform, they gain more users. Plus, having access to a global audience, they can produce more genre-specific programming that would be too niche for a public broadcaster, ”said Maag.

While it may appear that TV movies are part of the exodus of content from traditional broadcasters to streamers, it is not at all, according to several executives. Cady describes them as a “bread and butter” staple for broadcasters. “That’s because it’s stand-alone, efficient, low-risk programming that contributes to a broadcaster’s bottom line,” she continues. “I’ve been working on TV movies for nine years and I’ve only seen an increase in the number of buyers we sell to, never a decrease. Consistency allows broadcasters to easily pre-purchase in volume.


In 2012, Reel One was producing around eight films a year, all of which were destined for the US market. But now the company produces nearly 90 films a year for buyers around the world, according to Cadywould.

Part of the enduring appeal of TV movies is that they cost less to produce than studio-backed films and can quickly fill in gaps in schedules. “TV movies will remain popular because the channels don’t need to spend the money on marketing and audiences know there is a lot more to come, like binge boxes,” says Cadywould.

Vanessa Shapiro, Founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Nicely Entertainment, adds: “Due to the on-demand world and people stuck at home due to Covid-19, binge-watching has increased and there is a higher demand for higher volume content. This is just not possible with really big movies in theaters because they are very expensive to produce. “

If they were to put a strict definition on a TV movie versus a movie for theatrical release, most executives say it comes down to production costs. Even top talent, who once shied away from the small screen, are now flocking to star in made-for-TV movies, such as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Netflix’s Marriage Story and Al Pacino in HBO’s Paterno.

As for where TV movies are most popular, North America and Europe are leading the way, according to executives. Shapiro names, for example, the British channel Channel 5, the European satellite Sky, the various channels NBCUniversal, Sky Italia and the French M6 among its main buyers.


Maag of Bavaria Fiction adds: “In Germany all broadcasters have regular TV movie slots, especially public broadcasters, which have a long tradition of ordering films and have various slots throughout the week. Well-known TV movie brands are attracting high audience figures, such as the popular TV movie series Tatort. It’s Germany’s longest-running drama, an audience favorite, consistently earning top ratings.

While TV dramas have traditionally aired on weekday afternoons, Reel One’s Cadywould has noticed a shift to larger niches. “Our movies outside of North America tended to occupy time slots, but now we see a lot of channels showing them in prime time, like Talpa Network in the Netherlands and TV2 in Norway,” she says. .

DCD Rights’ Barker agrees, adding that there are more opportunities than ever for TV movies: “Viewers start to suffer from an element of ‘undue fatigue’ when it comes to multi-drama. long series. A 1 × 90 ‘TV movie may be the perfect length to fill an evening rather than trying to run through multiple episodes of a series.

“Here we see opportunities for TV movies such as The Tender Trap, which has a stellar cast as well as a powerful and emotional storyline, not only providing a great TV experience for the audience, but also giving the viewer the chance to enjoy. and terminate a program. “

The tender trap
The tender trap

Meanwhile, the pandemic has contributed to the growing resurgence of TV movies, with cinemas around the world being forced to close amid closures or enforce strict security policies. “Viewers tend to watch premium programming through streamers or pay TV channels, instead of venturing out to watch a movie in theaters with such strict Covid restrictions in place. Also, TV streamers and broadcasters provide various options in case you don’t like the program you originally chose to watch, ”adds Maag.

The pandemic has also influenced the genres of TV movies produced, with romcoms and lighter content proving to be more popular than action movies, according to Shapiro. “About 15 years ago there was a huge demand for disaster movies, then Lifetime female thrillers, then Christmas movies and now romantic movies,” she says.

“When you’re stuck inside, it’s dark enough already; and when you’re in lockdown you don’t want to watch anything depressing or violent. There is also a higher demand for comedy and co-viewing content as the whole family is at home together and has to watch the same show. “

Jon Kramer, CEO of Rive Gauche and AfterShock Comics, argues that there is a cyclical pattern in TV movies watched. “When viewers got tired of thrillers, they started watching romantic comedies. Eventually, they’ll tire of romantic comedies and want to watch thrillers again – it’s only a matter of time. A producer just has to do something unique in the genre to bring it back to life, ”he says.

There is great optimism that the future remains bright for TV films, especially as the number of buyers continues to increase. With non-cinematic films releasing in the coming year, including Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, starring big names like Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, this could just be another disappointing year for studios. traditional Hollywood performers at the awards show in 2022.

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