In addition to the need created by large-scale boycott of Russia, there’s a large global market for Ukraine’s high-quality, accessible productions
With Russia’s attack in the news and seemingly on everyone’s mind, it was clear the entertainment executives at MipTV wanted to show their support for Ukraine beyond putting out a press release or adding a flag to their LinkedIn profile pictures. This was about real financial backing. What I heard from content buyers time and again over the course of nearly 100 meetings was, “We need to acquire rights to more Ukrainian TV shows and movies.”
This was consistent across the board — coming from companies in the U.S., Western Europe and, in particular, Latin America. And the major Ukrainian media companies — Film.UA Group, 1+1 Media, Media Group Ukraine and StarLightMedia, the nation’s largest broadcaster, among others — were all on hand to make deals. They were presenting as a united Ukrainian pavilion, just a few booths down from Whip Media’s booth.
To be clear, this isn’t simply about offering financial support to a country in need. There are a handful of legitimate business and artistic reasons for the rise in demand for Ukrainian content.
First, it’s important to note Ukrainian films and shows have, for the most part, strong production value. Much of this is due to the Ukrainian government pumping tens of millions of dollars into the country’s cinema industry in the last decade — a trend that hasn’t decelerated since the 2019 election of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an actor and comedian who first rose to fame in a sitcom playing an ordinary schoolteacher whose viral rant about government catapults him into the presidency.
It’s worth noting that Zelenskyy’s TV show, “Servant of the People,” which ran from 2015 to 2019, has been one of the clearest examples of the recent spike in demand for Ukrainian content. Netflix added the show back to its service in the U.S. last month amid increased fanfare, about a week after the show’s rights were purchased by Channel 4 in the U.K.
Content travelability — or how well certain shows and movies perform outside their initial markets — is also another key factor at play. Drama is a popular TV genre in Ukraine, and that’s helping to make the country’s shows more attractive outside of Eastern Europe. Turkish TV dramas, for example, have found a second life in Latin America in the last decade, but that’s also driven up prices. At MipTV, I heard from several LatAm content buyers who were turning their focus to acquiring Ukrainian series because it was both culturally familiar and affordable compared to pricier Turkish shows.
Ukrainian content is also able to fill a void left for buyers who would typically be looking to acquire Russian shows and movies. It’s almost hard to believe now, with Hollywood joining the recent wave of boycotts, but Russian content was one of the hottest commodities at MipTV just a few years ago. That’s clearly changed, and it’s left an opening. And Ukrainian content, thanks to its similar sensibilities and comparably high production values, has become largely interchangeable with Russian programming. Another factor: A plurality of Ukrainian shows and movies are in Russian, since about 30% of the population speaks it as their first language. (Most of the dialogue in “Servant of the People,” for one example, is Russian.)
The shift in focus toward Ukrainian content has obviously followed a real tragedy that’s affecting millions of people. This shouldn’t be minimized. But leaving Cannes, I at least could take some solace in knowing Ukrainian directors, producers and actors were receiving a new level of interest in their work. Hopefully it’ll stay that way for years to come.
Alisa Joseph leads client adoption of the Whip Media Exchange, a data-driven global content exchange and research platform. She is a senior strategy and business development executive with 25 years of leadership in the media and entertainment industry. She has held key roles with Nielsen, Arbitron and Deluxe, where she has a track record of launching successful start-ups inside larger corporate structures, building new revenue streams, developing profitable strategic partnerships and opening new markets.