Disney EMEA Production Exec Liam Keelan Talks Dream Projects & Healthy Budgets Edinburgh

Good news for prospective writers and producers across Europe, with Disney+ revealing today the extent of its ambition when it comes to original programming in the region, aiming for a staggering 50 productions each year by 2024.

Following the success of Disney’s streaming service over the past 18 months – to the tune of 116 million global subscribers – Liam Keelan, Disney’s VP Original Production, EMEA, admitted the platform had exceeded all expectations. He reflected during a session at the Edinburgh TV Festival: “It was one of the few benefits of Covid. We had that captive audience and it helped people out with young kids during lockdown.”

Keelan left BBC Studios’ scripted division in 2019 and joined Disney last year for this newly created role. He oversees commissioning across its linear channels and on streaming service Disney+.

Disney’s launch success has fuelled its EMEA ambitions and helped prioritise content decisions. Keelan said of the mega-studio’s strategy: “It’s really important that we give a local flavour to the service in each of our main markets…Our main markets are UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain with some other markets joining quite soon. We’re commissioning unscripted and scripted pieces across all those territories, looking to commission 50 originals a year by 2024.”

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This amount of content has been boosted by the renaissance of Star, a previously sleeping brand that came along with the rest of Disney’s huge purchase of Twentieth Century Fox back in 2019. Four months ago, it was relaunched as a more adult offering to complement Disney’s existing streamers, with old favourites such as The Simpsons and Grey’s Anatomy ensuring a ready audience.

Keelan described an ambition to press ahead securing original content for Star and other channels.

“I want Disney+ to be a one stop shop in terms of general entertainment, with something for everyone,” he said. “That’s been the aim and certainly will be the majority of the focus in commissioning terms going forward.”

Asked to outline his dream project, he replied: “It will have a particular tone of voice, feel quite authored, will have something to say above and beyond, it may be a twist on the genre, things that are going to bring attention to the service.”

He continued: “It’s about making sure that anything we commission hits the quality that we’ve already got from shows coming through from the US. It’s having something that appeals to differences in the market. We know how competitive it is out there. The Disney brand will bring audiences in, but you need to do more than that.”

Keelan mentioned a broad slate of new content already commissioned, ranging from TV vet Sally Wainwright’s project The Ballad of Renegade Nell, about an 18th century highwaywoman with special powers, new screenwriter Emma Moran’s show Extraordinary, a comedy about the only normal person in a world of superheroes, and Nautilus, the 10-part epic series inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and set for production next year.

He isn’t the first Disney executive to make clear though, that the Mouse House retains its own irreproachable brand. He agreed that balancing the familiarity of the old with the adventure of the new is a high wire act.

He explained: “There’s got to be a certain tone of voice, and something very particular that marries those commissions together. There’s a very broad palette there at the moment. What I and the team will be doing going forward is getting those shows that really have that particular feel to them.”

In return, Disney’s coffers offer ample budgetary incentive, the exec said. Keelan made no bones about the Disney dollars when it came to commissioning power, reflecting: “If you speak to people we’ve already engaged, our budgets are more than competitive.”

And so is the marketing push, he added. “We like to get behind projects, making sure they’re properly upscale, that they get the marketing support and really stand out on the service. I hope that’s what differentiates us.”

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