Universal International Studios is fasting getting back into business following the end of the U.S. labor action, its bosses say.
In a keynote interview at Content London yesterday afternoon, UIS President Beatrice Springborn told delegates that productions such as Apples Never Fall and Day of the Jackal are back up and running, while new packages such as the buzzy Cape Fear TV reboot at UIS sister Universal Cable Productions are attracting offers.
This is despite the broadly downbeat perceptions around the entertainment market following a devastating 2023 punctuated by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the ongoing ad market downturn and a streamer reset.
Deadline revealed the noise around Cape Fear earlier this month. The Nick Antosca, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese project has been subject to the first big bidding war over a TV pitch after the double Hollywood strikes, according to sources, and has provided optimism the market is returning to a healthier place.
“We were all rooting for the market to come back,” said Springborn. “We had projects that were impacted. Post-strike, a lot of the shows are selling — and we’ve taken on a few in the past couple of weeks. People are looking for amazing material storytelling from the get. If you have that you can sell.
“We’ve had multiple offers which is encouraging in a market that many see as doom and gloom. It’s a growing marketplace for us.”
Springborn said the end of the strikes had resulted in a heart-warming moment in Hollywood, saying creatives and execs could develop a “new found appreciation” of the industry. “The heart does grow fonder,” she added. “We were getting texts right when the strikes were over and it was like a family coming back together. It was a good feeling.”
She said UIS, which is part of Universal Studio Group, was focusing on “quality over quantity,” and would seek to find creative approaches to “a shrinking market” with reducing budgets. “It can’t just be IP, it has be ‘IP and’ or something completely original,” she added.
Springboard revealed UIS has already sold two packages since the labor strikes ended, one a talent-led project and the based based on a book despite some notions buyers are holding back until early next year when budgets are clearer. “We had gotten people excited about them, so people were prepped and ready.”
Springboard said “grounded genre” stories were emerging as a trend despite analysts predicting sci-fi and fantasy will be passed over in the face of safer areas such as crime and romance as budgets fall. “It can be done for a price — anything below $8M,” she added.
The UIS boss added platforms are looking for returning, glossy stories but wanted more grounded storytelling than soap fare, and half-jokingly noted a new sub-genre term to define this category. “A thing I just learned about, which I’m ashamed to say out loud, is the ‘prestigural.’
“A lot of streamers are looking for ongoing series, things that are easy to watch — amazing looking people, great clothes and gloss, but at the core it has to have great storytelling: The ‘prestigural.’”
Springboard was joined on stage by Roma Khanna, UIS’s new Head of Studio, who is in her first week back at NBCUniversal after being hired from Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s HiddenLight Productions, where she was Executive Chair. She has replaced David O’Donogue, who exited earlier this year.
Khanna will relocate to London in January for her new role, and she explained what had attracted her to taking a post that moves her halfway around the world.
“UIS has ambition to ambitions to achieve that are my sweet spot: global voices and storytelling, big voices and new ones that haven’t had the airspace to be heard,” she said. “To have that big company behind you but to do it from the UK on a much more locally in a global way is the best of both worlds.”