International Insider: Merger Mayhem; BBC Diana Disaster; Netflix Moves; BBC Studios Remains Rudderless

Hello, I’m Jake Kanter, and welcome to International Insider. It’s been a wild week, so please do join us to reflect on the biggest headlines in global film and TV. Want to get in touch? I’m on [email protected] And sign up here to get this delivered every Friday.

Merger Mayhem

The new Hulk in town: It’s a week that will go down in history as a seismic moment in the streaming arms race. In the increasingly fraught fight for eyeballs, WarnerMedia and Discovery stunned the industry on Monday by announcing plans to combine in a deal that sounds like it’s ripped from a Succession storyline. In doing so, they will create a hulking $52 billion empire, which will be second only to Disney in the U.S. media landscape. But they weren’t the only ones on maneuvers. We also learned that Amazon is in talks to acquire the legendary James Bond studio MGM for up to $10B, while over in Europe, French broadcasters TF1 and M6 said they are in exclusive talks over a $4B merger.

Why now: The simple conclusion these companies are making is bigger is better in the rapidly shifting sands of streaming. On their own, Discovery (15M subs) and HBO Max (44M), are dwarfed by Netflix (208M) and risk being crowded out as audiences become more discerning about their subscriptions. Together, they boast 200,000 hours of content, and brands as diverse as DC, TLC, CNN, and Eurosport, which is home to the Olympics in Europe. And although it’s going to take until the middle of next year to close the deal, AT&T and Discovery still think they have a march on the competition. As AT&T CEO John Stankey said on consolidation fever, they want to “initiate that rather than have to follow it.”

Global ripple effect: How this all shakes out for WarnerMedia and Discovery’s international operations remains to be seen. There will be obvious questions around the future of super-producer All3Media, for example, which is co-owned by Discovery and Liberty Global. Will it be inhaled by the new David Zaslav-run behemoth? One thing’s for certain, there will be so-called “synergies” to be sniffed. WarnerMedia has been shredding thousands of jobs in recent months and these mergers often result in brutal redundancies. Just ask Jason Kilar, who seems destined for the exit door after little more than 10 months running WarnerMedia. Follow all our coverage on the mega-merger right here.

BBC Diana Disaster

A dark day for the BBC: When Prince William and Prince Harry yesterday traced a line between a scandalous interview with Princess Diana and the untimely death of their mother, you knew it was a truly ugly day for the BBC. The corporation is perenially plunged into crisis, but this one is of a unique magnitude after an independent inquiry concluded that former BBC reporter Martin Bashir deceived his way to the famous 1996 Diana interview, and the broadcaster failed to properly investigate his wrongdoing. The findings, diligently and devastatingly detailed by former judge Lord Dyson, make for shocking reading, and though they relate to a 26-year-old program, they will have very real consequences for current management.

What Dyson said: In short, the retired supreme court judge concluded that Bashir created fake bank statements, which played on Diana’s fragile state of mind, in order to secure access to the Princess of Wales. Dyson said this was a flagrant breach of BBC editorial guidelines at the time. Perhaps more powerfully, however, he concluded that the BBC effectively covered up Bashir’s actions by carrying out a “woefully ineffective” investigation into the matter, which concluded that Bashir was an “honest and honourable man.” That internal probe was led by Tony Hall, who oversaw the BBC’s news unit at the time and was director general until just last year. “The BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark,” Dyson wrote in his 127-page report. You can read the whole thing here.

Governance reforms: The BBC has apologized profusely for the affair and director general Tim Davie stressed that the broadcaster has “significantly better processes and procedures” than those that existed 26 years ago. But there are signs that these reassurances are unlikely to be enough to ward off a deeper review of the BBC’s governance structures, with the government making clear that it will examine reforms. Former BBC chairman Lord Grade wants the corporation to establish a distinct editorial board, populated by senior independent journalists, to ensure Bashir’s rogue reporting and the subsequent cover-up are never repeated. Go deeper.

Other fallout: Media lawyers have said the BBC could be slammed with lawsuits from those who have lost out as a result of the scandal. People like designer Matt Wiessler, who blew the whistle on the whole affair after he was commissioned by Bashir to forge the bank statements, only to be blacklisted by the BBC. Former BBC chief Hall will also need to face the music over the role he played in pardoning Bashir, and whether he was involved in rehiring the journalist in 2016. Both Bashir and Hall have admitted failings following Dyson’s report. Deadline will continue to watch the fallout from this one.

Netflix International Ins & Outs

On the move: A couple of significant comings and goings in Netflix’s international team this week. The company’s newly unveiled Nordics office, which will oversee Scandinavian content from the Swedish capital of Stockholm (with a smaller satellite office in Copenhagen, Denmark), has hired Jenny Stjernströmer Björk as director of original series. The exec arrives from local powerhouse SF Studios, where she was chief content officer, overseeing projects including The Cake General, The Sunny Side, and The Unthinkable. Also this week, as our Tom Grater first revealed, the company is preparing to say farewell to Srishti Behl Arya (pictured), who has been overseeing original films for the company’s India office for the past three years. Her tenure has encompassed an impressive 35 features, including Guilty, AK vs AK, Bulbbul, and Serious Men, as well as the streamer’s first Tamil and Telugu films, Paava Kadhaigal and Pitta Kathalu respectively. She will exits today, with Netflix India’s content VP Monika Shergill set to oversee the hiring of her replacement.

BBC Studios Remains Rudderless

Back to the drawing board: It may be one of the highest-profile jobs in the British TV industry, but Doctor Who producer BBC Studios is still struggling to regenerate its CEO after Tim Davie moved upstairs to become BBC director general last year. The recruitment process has dragged on for 10 long months now after a succession of high-caliber candidates turned the role down, including the newly-installed Sky Studios boss Cécile Frot-Coutaz. The theory was that BBC Studios’ acting chief executive Tom Fussell would be handed the job permanently, but that was until Richard Sharp became the BBC’s new chairman in February. I revealed this week that the former Goldman Sachs has ordered a rethink. Scoop here.

So, what next? BBC Studios recruiters are back out to market. The Doctor Who producer is said to be casting its recruitment net globally and there is also chatter that Sharp may have some candidates in mind from outside of the television industry. The U.S. is said to be a particular area of focus. One person familiar with the recruitment process said targets have included Gina Balian, FX Entertertainment’s president of original programming, and Paul Lee, the former ABC and BBC executive now running studio wiip. Peter Rice, Disney’s chairman of general entertainment, has also been linked to the role.

A slight problem: These are ambitious names, who will come with a hefty price tag. Davie earned £600,000 in his final year as BBC Studios CEO and his successor may not receive this much, as the BBC drives down executive pay. Another potential hurdle is Davie’s ambition to demote the BBC Studios job from the BBC board. Industry executives have been baffled by the decision, though a u-turn is not beyond the realms of possibility if it was a dealbreaker for a big-name candidate.

Tinopolis Seeks Peace Deal

The offer: International Insider readers will have seen our reporting on the scandal at Tinopolis, the UK super-producer behind hits including Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen. Tinopolis carried out a complex and controversial financial restructuring, which wiped out a £50 million ($70M) debt owed to around 15 furious former producers who helped build the production empire. We revealed this week that Tinopolis has sought a peace deal with the producers by offering them a small amount of cash and a stake in the group.

Not good enough: Deadline hears that producers deem Tinopolis’ offer to be “paltry.” Those owed money, including Magical Elves founders Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, are all continuing to investigate legal action. They remain in talks with a QC about the case after receiving expressions of interest from four litigation funds keen on the idea of bankrolling their grievance. Full story here.

The Essentials

📽️  In the frame: Above is the first look at BBC and HBO Max series, The Tourist. The Duel-style show is headlined by Jamie Dornan, though his co-star Hugo Weaving has had to pull out due to a scheduling issue. Go deeper.

🌶️  Hot one of the week: A decade after Attack the Block achieved sci-fi cult status and launched the career of its star John Boyega, Studiocanal, Film 4, Complete Fiction Pictures and UpperRoom Productions are moving forward with Attack the Block 2. Mike Fleming had the scoop.

🍿  International box office: Moviegoing kicked off again in the UK and France this week, with the former reopening cinemas on Monday and the latter on Wednesday. In three days at 50% capacity, UK cinemas took about £2M ($2.83M). Nancy Tartaglione has the details.

🗣️  Big interview: Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead premieres on Netflix today and Tom Grater sat down with Indian actress Huma Qureshi to discuss her big Hollywood break. Read their chat.

😞  RIP Balan Palanisamy: The veteran executive behind Southeast Asia distribution powerhouse Suraya Filem has died at the age of 64 following a battle with Covid-19, according to several people who worked with him. Tom had the story.

🇫🇷  Cannes protocols: The Cannes Film Festival and Market has published a “stay safe” plan outlining Covid protocols for attendees amid the pandemic. Check them out here.

🚚  On the move: Comcast-owned Sky has centralized its European acquisitions activity under Sarah Wright, who has been elevated to group director of acquisitions. More here.

📝 International Critics Line: Anna Smith took a look at Suzanne Lindon’s whimsical romance Spring Blossom. Read the review here.

🎦  Trailer dash: Here’s the trailer for the much-anticipated Friends reunion on HBO Max. We revealed on Monday that Sky is in pole position to acquire the UK rights to the special. Story here.

📺  One to watch: If you enjoyed Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, then be sure to tune into the Eurovision Song Contest final on Saturday. It’s even being streamed by Peacock in the U.S.

And Finally…

Keeping Mum: As the BBC unveiled its latest slate of eyecatching drama series on Tuesday, there was one question on every journalists’ lips for drama controller Piers Wenger, who held court over Zoom. Following its blockbuster sixth season, in which its finale became the highest-rated British drama episode of the 21st century, Wenger was asked: will Jed Mercurio be penning a Season 7 of police corruption drama Line Of Duty? The BBC drama chief peered into his camera and, mustering his best impression of Kelly Macdonald’s character Jo Davidson, told the press: “There can only be one answer to that question and that’s, ‘No comment.’” Cue Ted Hastings-style furrowed brows.

Tom Grater contributed to International Insider.

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