As NATPE Budapest gets underway, TBI speaks to the main players about selling formats into Central and Eastern Europe, breaking into emerging local territories and the booming market in constructed reality series
Traditionally, the biggest buyers of formats in the CEE region have been Russia, Poland and Ukraine and while this triumvirate remain fertile ground for format owners, new territories are breaking through and having an impact.
Naomi Koh, Zodiak Rights’ VP of sales says she has placed So You Think You Can Dance in Armenia, an unnamed format in Azerbaijan, 10 Things I Like About You on Kazakhstan’s El Arna and Psychic Challenge on Georgia’s Imedi; while ITV Studios General Entertainment has sold Come Dine with Me into Georgia and Hell’s Kitchen into Lithuania and Estonia. BBC Worldwide’s director of global formats, Elin Thomas, notes an uptick in sales activity right across Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Macedonia.
Within those growth territories, Worldwide has shopped powerhouse format Dancing with the Stars to Kazakhstan and shiny floor singing contest Just the Two of Us into Armenia.
The focus on emerging territories comes amid talk that activity is slowing in one of the big three formats territories, Ukraine (see box below).
In terms of what is faring well, shiny floor shows remain big but some see a new momentum in fact ent formats, which have traditionally not travelled into CEE well. “[Dancing with the Stars and Just the Two of Us] are two best-performing formats in Central and Eastern Europe, which clearly points to a preference for shiny floor entertainment,” say Worldwide’s Thomas. “However, we are seeing factual entertainment really breaking through with international successes such as The Great Bake Off, which has aired in Poland and will soon air in Ukraine, taking the total amount of territories this format has been licensed in to thirteen.”
If international shiny floor series are big news region-wide, quiz and gameshows tend not to work – although there are a couple of noteworthy recent exceptions with Wheel of Fortune returning to Romania and Pointless doing great numbers for RTL in Croatia.
Outside of the studio shows, Red Arrow International has also fared well with popular science series Galileo, which stretches to seven seasons on Russian’s CTC. The show is cheap to make as the broadcaster can select from a large library of clips and reskin it with a local host. Cost effectiveness is a concern with budgets in some territories prohibitively small.
The impact of smaller budgets, while a factor in programming trends, should not be overplayed given the cost of local on-screen and behind the camera talent is proportionately smaller. For example, one producer says the UK version of its shiny floor talent show has a budget of £500,000 (US$770,000) an episode while the Lithuanian version comes in at €20,000 (US$26,500) an instalment. What’s more, a format sale can include graphics packages, music and other add-ons to ensure the quality remains sufficiently high so it can retain audiences.
A measure of ingenuity also helps. When Estonia’s Kanal 2 ran a local version of ITVSGE’s Dancing on Ice it used synthetic ice rather than creating a real rink, saving money in the process. Another ITVSGE show, Saturday Night Takeaway, which links game segments to the commercials shown in the breaks, is a good example of how having a strong premium voting or sponsorship angle can help generate a return for the broadcaster and make it easier to get on air.
The format is also scalable depending on budget, says Jennifer Ebell, ITVSGE’s VP, SE EMEA. “More and more channels are looking for financial opportunities and to exploit 360 degree formats, which deliver ratings and sponsorship opportunities. Saturday Night Takeaway is a light entertainment format with many strands that allow territories to pick and choose what they need according to the budget,” she says.
“The big shiny floor shows all find their way to market and beautiful versions are produced for a fraction of the cost,” adds Banijay International’s managing director Karoline Spodsberg.
Banijay has just sold its reality format Opposite Worlds into Croatia. The series has twenty contestants taking part in an elimination competition whereby they live in one of two worlds: the past, in which there is a constant struggle for survival, and the future, a utopia where wishes are granted at the touch of a button. In Croatia, CME-owned Nova has licensed the format. Banijay has set up a Turkish production hub and hopes that will spur further CEE and Europe-wide sales (although the Croatian version will not be made there).
Zodiak, meanwhile, is unusual among international distributors in having CEE-based production companies in its group. Zodiak Vostok comprises drama and fact-ent producer TeleAlliance; Dixi, which makes local cop series Glukhar; and Mastiff Russia, set up in 2010 to extend Zodiak’s entertainment and reality business in the territory. “From a group perspective, having local production companies is a competitive advantage over other distributors when the market wants depth over breadth,” says Barnaby Shingleton, head of entertainment at Zodiak Rights.
He adds there is an opportunity to develop region-specific hit formats in the CEE and CIS regions. “Track record is not as important as elsewhere, with something like [dating show] 10 Things I Like About You in Russia, where the broadcaster loved it and ran with it. It’s a simple format that has been embraced in Eastern Europe where it is slightly lighter; it doesn’t have the hard edge of some studio shows in Western Europe.”
For Zodiak, paranormal series Psychic Challenge is another with a middling record elsewhere that has performed well in the region. “Psychic Challenge originated on Channel 5 in 2004, but it wasn’t successful, nor was it in the US on Lifetime, but it is now one of the biggest shows in Russia,” says Zodiak’s VP of sales Koh.
Another show with a softer edge and doing the numbers in CEE is Master Class, the talent show featuring talented kids from Israel’s Keshet International, which is headed into its first NATPE Budapest. It has proved the most popular show on free-to-air broadcaster TV2 in Hungary this year where the local version, School of Music, won a 32.3% share among 18-to-49s, over twice the average for the Saturday primetime slot it occupied.
While some territories might be cooling off, the wider trend toward local content plays directly to the formats distributors and, in international terms, a format can perform in ways an acquired programme can’t (although US drama still does well across the board). “Channels are learning that audiences are bored with schedules primarily filled with dubbed or subtitled foreign content – although there will always be a place for big glossy programming from places like the US,” explains Banijay International’s regional sales exec Siobhan Herriot.
Is Ukraine’s formats boom slowing?
Ukraine has been a first class customer among formats houses, with broadcasters willing to take risks and with large inventories to fill, but activity might be tailing off.“There was a boom there 18 to 24 months ago and they would snap up anything and everything, but in the last six months to a year it has slowed down,” says one senior sales executive with deep experience of the market.
Ukrainian broadcasters and producers are also starting focusing on developing and selling their own formats – turning an import into an export business. The most high profile example to date is Ukrainian producer Studio Kvartal-95 and Russia’s Star Media optioning Ukrainian talent show format Go Dance! to My Tupelo (Pros vs. Joes) in the US, with plans to make a Stateside version with Nigel Lythgoe Productions. It is also being remade in China after Star inked a deal with E! founder Larry Namer’s Metan Development Group. Beijing-based production company Mei Tian Mei Yu is developing the local version.
Another reason for a partial slow-down is that Ukrainian broadcasters have taken so many formats that, as the successful ones such as 1+1’s Hell’s Kitchen (pictured) return, there simply is not room for new shows. However, the fact that local channels will launch so many different shows in a given season means a wealth of slots and that there are, inevitably, still some opportunities.
Others suggest that the view of Ukraine as a buy-it-all territory for formats has been overstated. Banijay International’s Siobhan Herriot says: “It’s true that there is a willingness to take risks in this market, but at the same time this reputation has been formed by the buying habits of just one or two channels.”
Scripted challenged, scripted reality booms
Scripted is a goal for many distributors but there is stiff competition with the Latin vendors and now those from Turkey selling their soapy drama series into CEE. In terms of remakes of Western series, much of the focus is on Russia and much on shows with a US heritage, with Prison Break, Without a Trace and Married with Children among those making it on to Russian screens in local guise.
There has been a recent shift to encompass Europe-originated dramas too. “Russia is not only focused on the US but Europe also now,” says Red Arrow International’s Axel Bohm, senior VP, sales, CEE, noting deals for its legal drama legal drama Danni Lowinski in both Russia on Domashniy and STB in Ukraine. It is now focused on making German procedural The Last Cop for CEE markets.
BBC Worldwide concurs, adding, without detailing specifics, that after the success of the Russian version of Life on Mars on Channel One at the end of 2012, it has optioned several of its dramas locally.
Israel’s Keshet has also sold scripted into Russia with Traffic Lights going to CTC and MICE (pictured), the drama about a family of spies, being optioned by Russian producer J.I.T.V. “There is more interest, which is part of an overall trend where channels are seeing more value in scripted,” says the company’s international head of distribution and acquisitions, Keren Shahar.
Stepping beyond the Russia-Ukraine axis, Banijay has sold its German scripted sketch show format Ladykracher into Lithuania and Albania.
But if scripted is challenging, the market in scripted reality formats is booming, with German suppliers taking the lead.
“For years people laughed at this strange thing called ‘scripted reality’,” says Red Arrow’s Bohm. “But it is cheap to produce and we have sold shows including Family Cases and Destinies throughout CEE.” Family Cases reconstructs family courtroom dramas and Destinies life-changing events that have befallen ordinary people. Both are on Sat.1 in Germany.
All3Media-backed Filmpool is another faring well in the region. Its key titles are Families at the Crossroads, Day and Night, Cases of Doubt and Just Sue Me! and the producer will present a structured reality case study at NATPE Budapest.
Coming into the market, the sales arm of its parent group, All3Media International, has recently cut a swathe of deals for these formats including getting Families at the Crossroads renewed by Russian free-to-air broadcaster Ren TV for a third, 100-episode series and by RTL Poland, which has ordered a fifth 60-episode run. Ren has also ordered a second 60-episode run of legal format Just Sue Me!
Day and Night, which follows the diverse young inhabitants of a trendy city centre apartment, has just been renewed for a second 54-episode series by Slovakia’s TV Joj and for 90 episodes by RTL Klub.
“The genre continues to go from strength to strength, with these long-running series proving a mainstay of many daytime and early evening schedules,” says Stephanie Hartog, executive VP, formats at All3Media International. “Viewers have always been fascinated by real-life stories – constructed reality allows these to be presented in a format which is not only highly entertaining, but is also relatable.”