In May 2012, VideoAge tackled a topic that was then considered a unique U.S. prerogative. The article was titled “Development: The Necessary Evil of the U.S. TV Business.”
Some 11 years later, the content development process has not really changed much in the U.S., but it has recently been introduced in certain areas of Europe, including Italy, which came as a surprise to the international entertainment industry. This is because Italy is still ruled by a myriad of mom-and-pop production houses, which seem to work by the old adage, “it’s who you know, not what you know.”
To be fair, this is true of other E.U. countries, as well, and — in order to alleviate the problem of non-domestic entities not having the necessary connections — it has forced major production companies to buy up local production entities. This happens so often, in fact, that today, television production in Italy is dominated by non-Italian groups like Banijay, Cattleya, and Fremantle.
These foreign-owned entities keep the international distribution rights of the Italian content they produce, while smaller companies tend to cede the rights to the distribution divisions of the broadcasters, often in exchange for some extra transmission fees, which renders small producers unable to build up a library to license internationally.
Among the few remaining independent Italian production companies that are family-run, is the Rome-based Publispei, a 50-year-old entity run by Verdiana Bixio (pictured on top), the daughter of the company’s co-founder, the late Carlo Bixio.
As of 2023, Publispei had produced over 1,000 hours of primetime content. The company began producing dramas in the 1990s, starting with A Family Doctor, a remake of the Spanish TV series Medico de Familia, and I Cesaroni, a remake of hit Spanish series Los Serranos. In 2008, the company expanded its production slate to include comedies and dramedies (e.g., Crazy About Love), and in 2022 went into historical dramas, biopics, young adult fare, and crime series.
Bixio explained that she’s moving Publispei away from the traditional Italian business model of ceding distribution rights to the Italian broadcast network that commissions or acquires a production. “The aim of the company,” she said, “is to expand its footprint and become more and more international. That’s the reason I’m often in the U.S., in order to create new alliances and partnerships, develop remakes of our IPs, distribute the ready-made products, and co-produce new projects that have a strong and ‘glocal’ identity.”
Bixio also explained that “in 2022 the company made a strong internal change, hiring new talents coming from different fields. We’ve diversified our collaborators coming from different sectors, including design. Our diversity is now our strength and, thanks to this new team and its ‘contamination of ideas,’ we have created new disruptive products, not only scripted, but also documentaries, podcasts, unscripted, and feature films.”
These changes included the creation in 2022 of a content-development unit that Bixio described to VideoAge after she returned from the Venice Film Festival, where on September 5, 2023, she received KPMG’s Women in Cinema Award.
“Our development unit is a multifaceted division,” she said. “The scripted area is headed by Francesca Primavera. Matteo B. Bianchi is our talent scout for unscripted and special projects, and Antonio Adinolfi takes care of the business and commercial aspects.”
Subsequently, during a videoconference meeting, VideoAge managed to explore each executive’s background, starting with Primavera, a screenwriter who joined Publispei with the task of creating in-house original scripts, as well as looking for outside ideas. She can count on the talent of three creatives internally, and three freelancers. On IMDb, Primavera is credited as a script editor and a script writer, and has been active since 1997.
Bianchi handles the unscripted area and, at the same time runs an independent book publishing house for first-time authors. He himself is an author with six books to his credit, as well as a podcaster.
Adinolfi is the business and commercial affairs executive. He has experience in television production and film distribution. He also has three credits on IMDb as a producer.
In terms of how many projects are taken into consideration, Bixio couldn’t provide an exact number, but she said that “out of the many that we look into, we produce a couple of them per year, while at the same time have in development a couple of TV series, one theatrical film, and a few special projects, like unscripted shows and podcasts. One such podcast was so successful that we’re now looking to make it into a TV series. Naturally,” Bixio added, “the numbers are well below the typical development output found in the U.S.” She went on to explain that “in Italy, producing pilots is not required, however we tend to create mood boards, and trailers.”
Primavera described a mood board as something different than a storyboard in the sense that it consists of anything from five to 15 visual outline pages that she brings during pitches. The trailer, on the other hand, is a 90-second dynamic video produced internally.
The decision for a project’s approval comes from a joint assessment by the three development execs, before it is submitted to Bixio for the final greenlight. At that point the project goes back to Primavera who pitches to broadcasters and/or platforms, and subsequently to Adinolfi who negotiates rights and financial agreements.
Usually, reported Bixio, the client contributes from 65 percent to a maximum of 80 percent of the production costs, with the balance coming from pre-sales, international sales, or co-production deals, and includes the exploitation of ancillary rights. “But,” she pointed out, “the development costs are fully absorbed by us.”
Once the clients acquire their specific rights, payments start to flow immediately, followed by a second portion at the start of shooting, then at each middle-of-the-week shooting, and finally at the end of shooting, with the closing balance at delivery.
As far as the creative process is concerned, the clients can request different actors, can be involved in the script changes, and can supervise each episode before all of the series’ episodes are delivered at once. Primavera and Adinolfi tend to visit the sets of the series Publispei is producing, with Primavera also monitoring the editing process.
Audio Version (a DV Works service)