It is, perhaps, a revealing testament to the true nature of the television business that, despite the refusal of courts on either side of the Atlantic and Pacific to recognize their existence in matters of legal protection — formats have become one of the biggest and fastest growing industry sectors. So, why is the format so loved and what makes a great format?
There aren’t many “hard facts” about the format business, but one seems to be that there is a very broad range of opinions as to the trends driving its future. Armoza Formats CEO Avi Armoza (pictured above) identified, “a strong trend for wedding and dating shows,” as well as pointing to an established truth that, “once a trend has started to gain momentum, what follows is a test as to who will be able to bring a fresh perspective to the genre, or sub-genre.” As an example of this, Armoza cited his own company’s new format, Marry Me Now, in which women surprise grooms-to-be with a proposal accompanied by an on-the-spot wedding after three days of preparation.
Michel Rodrigue, CEO of The Format People, sees developing potential in kids’ formats and also live-show formats. In the case of the latter, he noted in particular, “the revived interest in live formats is broad — ranging from stunts to musicals and is helped by the ability to build social media interest alongside an appointment to view.”
Justin Scroggie, a partner at The Format People noted that, “the faltering talent-show genre is finding new traction by skewing younger, not only in music and performance, but also in cooking, business, fashion etc.”
He also identified a “come-back” currently being staged by the game-show genre, but cautions “they are, however, struggling to slot back into primetime,” and suggested, “a great format breakthrough is needed here — a game format that also encompasses the emotional impact of reality or talent shows.”
Rodrigue is clear that “the biggest force driving these trends is the search for the widest possible audience,” asserting, “niche programming is a failed TV experiment — a mass medium always hungers for a mass audience — and kids plus grown-up format equals family viewing and live plus format equals mass co-viewing and social interaction.” Although Rodrigue is quick to caution, “these formats are driving broadcasters to fill terrestrial TV shows with Internet stars in the hope of tapping their massive on line fan base. But great formats have longevity, and longevity is the antithesis of the Internet.”
These are sentiments echoed by Arabelle Pouliot-Di Crescenzo, managing director of scripted format specialist Kabo International, who believes, “one element that is currently of great importance to almost all broadcasters around the world is co-viewing.” She went on to explain, “there is a lot of demand for formats that can attract a broad range of demos. Although it is about to finish in the U.S., American Idol was a great example of this — it really was a show watched by all the generations together.”
Keren Shahar, managing director, Distribution at Keshet International, on the other hand sees a driving trend in the “increasing popularity of scripted formats,” citing, “Keshet’s great success, over the years, with Prisoners of War and Loaded.” But she also identified buyers as “always being on the lookout for big, primetime, entertainment shows capable of attracting, large, live audiences.”
Kabo’s Pouliot-Di Crescenzo broadly agreed with the above assessment, identifying the greatest demand from broadcasters as being, “for scripted, game-shows and entertainment-floor shows.” But for Pouliot-Di Crescenzo, it isn’t only the broadcasters that are held captive to the allure of big shows and primetime slots, producers too have succumbed. As she pointed out, “ultimately all formats want to hit big broadcasters and major slots, primetime or at least prime-access- which, of course, is where the big budgets are.” Although she does accept that, “these budgets are not as big as they were, but they are bigger than any others that are around.”
If there is diversity of opinion as to the current trends in formats, so too as to what it takes to make a great format. For Armoza, “every format is a patent, and the best way to have a successful format is to have a clear patent. The idea needs to not only be fresh and creative, but it must also have a clear storyline.”
Rodrigue is less certain, insisting, “no one knows the formula for a great format — if we did we’d be on a huge yacht right now!” But he did identify certain facets that the formats we have come to recognize as “great” tend to have in common. “For one thing,” he observed, “they tend to come along only once every few years and are almost always slow burners rather than overnight hits that follow the zeitgeist. And,” he continued, “like any other product their commercial value is proportionate to the number of potential users — so a great format needs to be flexible. Does it have a scalable budget? Will it work at different lengths to suit the needs of different broadcasters? Can it play in different slots and satisfy their different audiences? Finally, can it play weekly or stripped, weekday or weekend?” Rodrigue thinks the theme of a format can be a significant factor in delivering this flexibility, commenting, “food seems to be a theme that embraces flexibility as we are finding with our hit format Chef in Your Ear.”
Shahar believes the need for flexibility also extends to the search for new formats, revealing, “we see potential in nearly all the countries in which we work.”
She pointed to recent Keshet deals such as a co-production deal with Argentina’s Telefe, the acquisition of Korean romantic comedy You Will Love Me, and an option agreed with China’s Huace Croton for the U.S. rights to Dating Hunter.
Unrecognized by law, universally loved and respected by broadcasters, it seems the great magic of the format is — it can be whatever you think you want it to be.