Romain Bessi from Newen on Global Ambitions & Synergies – Deadline
Welcome to Deadline’s International Disruptors, a feature where we shine the spotlight on the top executives and companies outside of the United States who are disrupting the offshore market. This week, we talk to Romain Bessi, CEO of French group Newen Studios. The company, which produces Connectionthe first original in English and French for Apple TV+, intensifies its global ambitions and Bessi explains the global strategy.
When French media giant TF1 Group considered a complete takeover of Versailles producer Newen Studios in 2017 after buying a 70% stake a few years earlier, the company knew it had to line up a leader who would transform the France-centric company into an international operation capable of meeting the demands of the ever-changing content market. evolution . Step into Romain Bessi.
The highly respected Bessi had just completed a long stint of almost ten years at Studiocanal, which at the time was considered the great success story of the Vivendi-owned Canal Plus group. As COO there, Bessi was the driving force behind the pan-European giant’s most significant deals, including leading the €150 million ($164 million) funding deal with Anton Capital Entertainment as well as the acquisition of the German Tandem Communications and its stake in the 3D company nWave. . These deals have all been instrumental in transforming this French company into an international giant spanning France, the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, ultimately transforming Paddington into a billion-dollar global franchise.
“It was pretty clear that TF1 wanted me to do something similar,” Bessi told Deadline in a rare interview from his Paris office. “Here, the stakes are different insofar as Newen is a pure player in diversified production in terms of content. This is something that is really important to us. »
Since Bessi joined Newen in 2018, the company has grown from a producer of public service content focused on Gallic and theater to a presence in eight countries with over 40 labels, including: Newen France in France; Newen Connect (its distribution branch) and TF1 Studio in France and the United Kingdom; Reel One in Canada, UK and US; iZen in Spain and the UK; De Mensen in Belgium; Tuvalu in the Netherlands; Blue Spirit in France and Canada; Ringside Studios in the UK; and Flare Film in Germany.
The company is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing players in the global content game with a diverse mix of genres and talent. He produces series such as the thriller Vincent Cassel and Eva Green ConnectionApple TV+’s first English and French original, eight-episode historical drama Marie Antoinette from The favourite writer Deborah Davis for Canal Plus in France and her German thriller Funeral for a dogbased on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pletzinger has performed well with audiences and critics.
Newen is also a key player in the genre of European daily soap operas, something of which Bessi is “very proud” with the French series Here It All Begins delivering strong audiences on TF1 in France and on Belgian series Lisa launch on VTM Belgium earlier this year.
Bessi, who rose from managing director to CEO of Newen in January, has always seen opportunities outside of his local borders. Born to parents who both worked in the public entertainment industry, Bessi began his career at Ernst & Young after graduating from the prestigious international business school Neoma in France. There, he finds himself attracted by missions in the audiovisual sector.
He joined the Canal Plus Group in 1997 to hold the position of management controller of the Canal+ pay-TV channel before being appointed financial director of Sport+, where he led international sports rights negotiations. After periods as financial director at Canal+ Nordic in Sweden, Canal+SA and Groupe Canal+ édition, he joined Studiocanal in 2007 where he participated in the international development of the company. In 2017, he was hired by TF1 for a year before starting to develop Newen’s international footprint and diversify its productions.
It is clear that Bessi is a man who delivers: in 2021, after the acquisition of a majority stake in the German production company Flare Films and the acquisition of the Spanish company iZen, activities outside France represented 47% of the Newen’s total turnover.
For the approachable and enthusiastic internationalist, the strategy is simple: align with like-minded companies in key European markets that Newen can support with its rich IP library, financial strength and experienced team while diversifying Newen’s portfolio.
“We try to bring additional tools to companies so that they are able to do things that they could not do before,” Bessi explains of the strategy of acquiring and partnering with labels. “But the goal is, of course, to make sure that they can also continue to do things that they could do before.”
It’s a very organic and unstructured approach for its companies. Newen, notes Bessi, is nimble enough to be open to any type of structure, be it majority or minority stakes or entire business acquisitions. Newen supports these companies when they need it in the context of their commercial or legal affairs or via Newen Connect.
“It’s more about making sure the person believes that together we can do greater things than they could do on their own and if the person really believes in that, then it’s about to find a structure that aligns interests.”
While the objective was to create a pan-European production hub, Newen did not lock itself into this approach by taking a majority stake in Reel One by Tom Berry, the Canadian company behind the series, in 2019. Detective McLean. Newen saw an interesting opportunity to grow his slate of English-language TV movies and exploit European IP in the US, Canada and the UK, as at the time Reel One was generating 90% of his revenue. outside of Canada.
“It was an interesting model for us because they produced English-language films that you could see on Lifetime in the United States or on TF1 in France,” he says. “It was an opportunity to really diversify our portfolio.”
Since this agreement, Reel One has tripled its production activity and is working with Belgian company De Mensen de Newen on an English-language remake of a drama series. Team chocolate (Chocolate Tygat). Last year, Lifetime’s parent company, A&E Networks, took a 35% stake in the company.
For its collective of producers, Newen offers a large library of more than 6,000 hours and 1,000 films, giving them access to a wide range of IP. In 2020, Newen appoints Rodolphe Buet, a former Bessi collaborator at Studiocanal, to lead its distribution operation and consolidate the activities of Newen Connect and TF1 Studio. His companies, Bessi says, are regularly briefed on formats and films that could be tapped for local remakes.
Bessi describes creating opportunities for these creative synergies as a “Shengen approach to content”.
“It’s about making IP accessible to everyone, facilitating co-productions, providing complementary funding for larger projects and more. Our companies are still independent, but they have the ability to do things together if they want to and we try to facilitate that. »
Earlier this year, financier Anton increased his investment in Newen by 40% to €50m ($54.5m). The deal extension came after two years of Anton’s investments in which Newen backed companies like OCS. The Opera, France Television/RTBF/ARD crossroads and VRT/Arte Lost baggage. Newen’s upcoming documentary about fashion designer John Galliano from Whitney director Kevin Macdonald is also included in the new expansion.
“It’s a risky business and in a risky business you want to share the risk,” Bessi says of the deal. “It’s about sharing the distribution and the investments and of course they also share the profits, but Anton are the trustees. They do not interfere creatively or in content selection. »
Moving forward, Bessi says the next steps are to set up shop in Italy and expand further into Scandinavia (the company currently only operates in Denmark). Then, he says, it’s more about growing in its existing territories.
“Trends over the past few years have shown that local is actually the new international,” he says, adding that the current climate is “very strong for local producers.”
“Local players want local content that makes sense for local regions, but platforms now also want local content,” he says. “There are many more producers in the market at the moment, which makes it a bit complex, but it is a growing market and one that changes all the time. What’s interesting is the fact that streamers want local content but also most of them have local organizations. So now you’re talking about a French project with a Frenchman in a French market and he happens to be working for a global player.
His main concern, however, is the health of the public sector and traditional broadcasters, which he sees as integral to ensuring diverse and creative stories.
“We don’t want all the traditional players to disappear,” he says. “I know it’s tough, and they keep fighting and they’re finding new ways to reach audiences but, of course, territory by territory, they don’t have the power that global players have. So, as a local player, I want to make sure that I continue to work with the public service in ten years time as well as with the Netflix and the Amazons of the world. It is really the key to preserve this competition, which is very important for creativity because it opens up different kinds of opportunities for producers.
He adds: “There is no ‘European way of doing things’ but there is a common culture. Even if we speak English, it is not enough. We have to adapt to different cultures and respect different cultures to make things work. It’s not about doing things the French way or the English way, it’s about trying to find a middle way, which is really the key.
This week’s edition of Deadline’s International Disruptors is presented by Guillotine Vodka.