Keshet International looking forward to an exciting 2021
Alon Shtruzman, CEO of Keshet International, tells Yako Molhov how his company handled the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. While the year was tough for production, the international distribution as well as the broadcasting and digital operations in Israel delivered excellent results during the past year. In 2021, the main focus will be on resuming production and bringing a slate of new original shows to the markets in Germany, UK and the US among others.
The interview is available on tvbizzmagazine.com as well.
Alon, 2020 was quite the year. How has Keshet International managed to navigate thru one of the longest years, as seen by many, and what was your strategy in battling the pandemic?
Firstly, making sure everyone was safe. We’ve employees in different countries, all of whom were experiencing different levels of alerts, safety guidance and quarantine advice at different times. With offices and existing productions being shut down, our next priority was making sure everyone had everything they needed to work safely from home. In terms of the business strategy, we had to learn quickly and adapt on the go to keep the business going for all of our Production and Distribution arms. During lockdown, viewers needed entertainment and escapism more than ever, and channels and platforms needed content that is ‘ready to go’ to fulfill this demand. We made it a point to keep in close and regular contact with our buyers and partners, so we could cater to their changing needs and help them entertain their viewers at a very difficult time, something which Keshet 12 did particularly well with its post-COVID programming strategy.
Can you tell us more about Keshet 12’s strategy?
When the first lockdown hit, TV viewing surged by a third as Israelis searched out news coverage and feel-good campfire viewing while isolating at home. K12 picked up proportionally more viewers thanks to its recently launched digital news platform, N12, which is well-regarded for its balanced and reliable rolling news coverage and debate, and by swiftly commissioning relevant entertainment shows – including a collaboration with the Zappa Group to support musical artists, comedy specials with Israeli favorites like Adir Miller, and The Great Israeli Seder to mark Passover. As a result, K12 retains its crown as the most-watched TV channel in Israel, leading in all slots, with 17 of the 20 of the most watched shows of 2020 including Can’t Stop the Music, To Catch A Con and Rising Star - a success that is mirrored by increased viewing to mako, which is now Israel’s most-watched video player.
What were the main changes on the international market this year and how did they affect your production business and your distribution business?
2020 has been a year when demand for quality content has never been higher, with new and emerging streaming platforms like HBO Max, Peacock and Apple TV launching to take on existing players like Netflix. So, our ‘ready to go’ dramas like The Trial of Christine Keeler, Secret Bridesmaids’ Business and entertainment or factual series like Killer Camp, Singletown and Around the World by Train have travelled extensively even though we’ve not been able to.
Thankfully, we have a big and diverse offering of scripted and non-scripted finished tape, so while Production waited for conditions and regulations to allow filming to resume, our Sales team quickly stepped up to meet our buyers’ growing needs – initially with finished tape, then shifting as restrictions eased to COVID-safe formats. Production has now entered a new era globally – one where we are experts on COVID safety protocols like testing, bubble strategies, and social distancing.
2020 has absolutely been a rollercoaster ride, with numerous productions stopped, started and completed – including Keshet Tresor Fiction’s Unter Freunden Stirbt Man Nicht (You Don’t Die Among Friends) which is based on Noa Yedlin’s Stockholm and Tresor’s I Can See Your Voice in Germany; Tuesday’s Child The Hit List in the UK and the Netherlands; Singletown in Norway and Denmark; and many other productions ongoing including Keshet Productions’ Suspicion, remake of False Flag starring Uma Thurman in the UK. In these terms, 2020 has been a good year for KI because not only was our varied ‘ready to go’ tape catalog in high demand with existing and new buyers, but we have also learnt that we are both resilient and creative when faced with extreme challenges.
Our team at Keshet Studios used the downtime to accelerate development of both new IP as well as work up projects already in our pipeline, such as Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First with Yuval Adler for HBO; The Stuntwoman with Academy Award Winner Guy Nattiv; and All the Rivers with Gal Gadot and Jaron Varsano. This was probably our most productive development period in the US resulting in more than a dozen projects at various stages of paid development/production, including the recently announced script developments for The A Word and Ties That Bind with Universal Television for NBC.
What are you looking forward to in 2021 the most?
Besides being vaccinated, getting back on track with production! Production is the heart and soul of television, as the industry needs a strong supply of new quality content coming through. While we did manage to produce shows in the US, the UK and Germany in 2020, we are looking forward to getting back up to pre-pandemic levels of output. Our development teams at Keshet Studios, Keshet Productions and Keshet Tresor Fiction have kept themselves busy developing strong pipelines of IP, so it’ll be good to move into the production phase with some this year. More news to follow soon!
Keshet International is developing, producing and distributing content all over the world. What are the most important territories for your company and which markets you would like to focus on more next year?
For me, the globalization of TV has changed the conversation and so it’s less about focusing on a single market or territory these days. It’s not so much about geography now because it’s not uncommon that the deal goes global or to multiple territories, rather than staying local to one. When you sell to the US streamers, many of them have global reach, so I see them as a market or a medium in their own right. That said, we continue to nurture strong relationships with buyers from all over the world, as demonstrated by our high volume of ‘ready-to-go’ sales last year.
As people were forced to spend much more time at home, there has been an obvious increase in the consumption of content. What were the genres with the highest demand from your portfolio and what is your forecast for 2021?
In times of crisis, people look for feel-good entertainment and escapist shows. As already mentioned, we saw this trend in Israel with viewing to our channel, Keshet 12. So, content with a more positive message and feel-good flavor is more in demand, which is why shows like Killer Camp, The Baker and the Beauty, The A Word and Singletown have proved popular. Travel shows like Around the World by Train and Weekend Breaks with Gregg Wallace were also in high demand this year with buyers. We think this trend will continue into 2021 with fun-filled, entertainment formats also seeing a resurgence as production ramps back up.
What were KIs' most-successful titles? And what are your hottest projects for 2021 and beyond?
We’ve had a lot of successes this year! The Trial of Christine Keeler, The A Word, Singletown, BOOM!, Stockholm Germany, I Can See Your Voice Germany, The Hit List and hidden camera game show Deal with It! spring to mind – we even released our second feature film, Save Yourselves!, which did really well in the cinemas (when it could) and with streamers. It was also a great year for many of the indies at Greenbird, particularly Crackit Productions and Rumpus Media, which won a BAFTA. For 2021, we are particularly excited about our new thriller Furia with NENT and ZDF; Keshet 12’s new drama Line in the Sand and third seasons of The Baker and the Beauty and False Flag; our two productions with Apple TV, Echo 3 and Suspicion starring Uma Thurman; and Keshet Studios’ pipeline – we have a lot of exciting new projects in addition to NBC’s La Brea , The A Word and Ties That Bind - coming through here in particular. More news to follow soon!
2020 proved very interesting when it comes to the streaming market and the distribution models. You are quite familiar with this side of the business as you introduced Israel's first VOD Service. What is Keshet International's digital strategy for 2021?
Here at Keshet, we’ve long established relationships with numerous streamers. In the US, Keshet Studios partners with Universal Television and NBC, which has recently launched Peacock. We’ve been following the evolution of the streaming market and the new breed of speciality platforms like Acorn TV and Discovery+ launching alongside the global players like Netflix and Apple TV. We’ll be strengthening our on-going relationships with those platforms as well as with AVOD platforms like Tubi, Little Dot and Pluto with more scripted and non-scripted content, as their popularity with consumers continues to grow. We are also working with emerging platforms in India and Asia, where we’ve always invested energy and we’re seeing developments in these markets too. As streaming is becoming more dominant, we like to think of ourselves as a platform agnostic business.
Compared to other big companies, KI is driven by IP (intellectual property). And Israel is a very suitable territory for testing new content only because of the high number of immigrants from all over the world. Tell us a little bit more about the process of developing fiction and non-fiction formats, what makes KI so successful in this respect?
For us, it’s not really about using Israel as a focus group but more about investing in talent and developing it from an early stage. Israel is a great source of prolific talent and great storytellers. Thanks to our parent company’s ownership of Keshet 12, the leading TV channel in Israel, we are fortunate to have direct access to and strong relationships with such talent. Which means we are able to either cultivate young talent from an early stage or get access to great talent and IP before others.