June/July 2015
Volume 35 No. 5

February 2015
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Never Rewrite a Hit, Unless It’s a Super Format Sequel

The format business had a great year in 2014. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Got Talent as “the most successful reality format” — there are currently 67 local versions around the world, and in the U.K. ITV is planning a “born again” Got Talent with Planet’s Got Talent. Plus, both Master Chef and Dancing With The Stars hit their 50th territories. So, all in all a great year — or was it? “Never rewrite a hit” is one of the oldest adages in showbiz — but is this going too far? Don’t we need some new formats?

“This is our raison d’etre,” said Avi Armoza, CEO of Armoza Formats in Israel. “We are here to create and launch new and innovative shows. I see it as our responsibility to stimulate creativity in the industry and to establish platforms for this creativity to emerge,” Armoza said. “We feel it is our obligation to keep developing and to push the boundaries of creativity.”

Izzet Pinto, CEO of Turkey’s Global Agency, doesn’t agree with the assertion that there have not been any new “breakout formats” — although he did accept that “when you talk about shows like Big Brother and Millionaire, you’re talking about shows that almost invented a genre — certainly a sub-genre, and that is something that is very, very, difficult to do in television and so, by definition, it happens very rarely. But one of the reasons I have great faith in the future of the format business is that audiences, and therefore commissioning editors, are always looking for the next hit — the next ‘big thing’.”

So, where will the next big thing come from?

Jörg Graf, SVP of Production and Acquisition at Germany’s Mediengruppe RTL explained that his company “operates six free TV channels and four pay-TV channels in addition to several non-linear platforms and we are, therefore, always looking for new formats, both scripted and non-scripted.” But he went on, “the market is currently very difficult. Scripted formats have a trend toward extremely serialized narratives and in the non-scripted formats we have not seen a new format with real potential since The Voice. So, yes, we would love to see some new formats coming along, but, honestly, I have to tell you that we have already decided to invest even more money into domestic and in-house development.”

Nick Smith, VP of Format Sales at the U.K.’s All3Media shares Pinto’s confidence in the future of the format business, saying, “I constantly hear people bemoaning the lack of innovative new formats being launched, but you only have to look at the success of formats such as Gogglebox, Married At First Sight and Sexy Beasts to see that new formats are constantly coming through that are working well both domestically and internationally.” Having said that, Smith immediately acknowledged that, “the ‘super format’ is far from dead. The likes of Big Brother, Got Talent and Dancing With The Stars are continuing to do business around the world, and it wouldn’t surprise me if by the end of 2016 we have a new ‘super format’ to add to that list.”

One area where Smith and Pinto disagree is the possible role of the Internet in delivering new formats. Pinto stated, “the Internet has a major role to play in the format business as a facilitator of ‘second screen’ opportunities. But as an outlet for viewing formats, or facilitating the development of formats, I frankly don’t see the Internet having much, if any, role.” Smith, by contrast is “sure the Internet will play more of a role in the development of formats going forward,” citing as an example having watched a format on YouTube, which, he admitted, “was aimed at avid quizzers rather than the mass market.” Nonetheless, for Smith, it highlighted how effective the Internet can be in developing game shows.

Harry Gamsu, VP of Format Acquisitions and Sales at Red Arrow International agrees that “talent show formats alone [demonstrate] that there is huge Internet integration and opportunities within formats, particularly for social media.”

However and wherever they are developed, the longevity of “super formats” shouldn’t surprise anyone; after all, the main reason for buying a format is that it has been successful elsewhere and the buyer believes that success can be replicated in their market.

Even when a successful format is starting to tire and shed audience, the DNA of the format business — never rewrite a hit — is still operating.

Mediengruppe RTL’s Graf stated, “we are offered many formats all the time, and most we reject. We have a very clear idea of what works for our two flagship channels, VOX and RTL, and if a format doesn’t meet our requirements, then we reject it very quickly. At Mediengruppe RTL, we have been highly successful over many years in adapting mainstream international, primetime shows for our core audience and we are clear that what we are looking for are shiny floor shows and docu or real life formats.”

Despite this apparent conservatism in taste, Graf remains confident in the future of the format business, believing that, “it will remain strong in the future and we will see strong new formats emerging not least because the ability non-scripted formats still have to reach a massive, mainstream, family audience means there is a huge demand for them. He conceded that maybe “it is true that over the past few years, formats have tended to be narrowly focused on a small range of genres such as the next casting show. But I am sure that in the next few years we will see some interesting crossovers.” And, Graf added, echoing his earlier revelation of RTL’s commitment to extra funding of in-house development, “if they are not offered to us by licensors — we will just have to come up with our own formats developed in-house.”

Graf’s prediction of the emergence of “interesting crossovers” in the next few years is a theme picked up by Global Agency’s Pinto, who noted, “I am sure that what we will see emerging in the immediate future will be formats very similar to one of the classics — but with an ingenious twist.”

No sooner had Pinto said this than he told VideoAge that, “I have developed a new format, Stairway To Fame, with the famous Turkish singer, Rafet El Roman, which we debuted at MIP-TV and which has the potential to become a ground-breaking format — one of the classics that sells into almost every territory in the world. It is a really great singing talent show with a really great structure, and I am very excited about it.”

The truth it seems is this — the format business is about replicating success — not reinventing it. BJ