The best-sellers, the trend makers, the battles, the emerging territories, the industry favourites… here is the TBI Formats Year in Review.
If This Time Next Year and Lip Sync Battle were among the best sellers, there were also new distributors on the ground this year. Twenty-sixteen was the first full year for Vivendi’s new formats division Vivendi Entertainment. Created after the acquisition of Mathieu Porte’s Can’t Stop Media, it successfully launched the Guess My Age and Couple or Not formats on the international stage.
Another newbie formats player was IM Global, which at the end of the year brought in seasoned producer Phil Gurin to lead a new division, which will set up outposts in London, Latin America and China.
Formats veteran John de Mol had a busy year after selling Talpa to ITV in 2015. Perhaps with his earn-out in mind, De Mol’s Talpa shopped formats including The Story of My Life (right) and The The Wishing Tree to numerous partners.
The Talpa-ITV integration was underlined this year with the UK broadcaster adding to its Dance, Dance, Dance order with The Wishing Tree and Five Gold Rings from its new Netherlands-based prodco. It had already snagged The Voice, which will transfer from BBC One.
With talent shows still in vogue All3Media-backed Studio Lambert created a shiny floor entertainment unit, and hired a top TwoFour Group creative to lead the prodco. Cat Lawson will lead Gliiterbox as creative director, having most recently been head of entertainment at This Time Next Year prodco TwoFour.
In related All3Media news, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay created a studio and scored a joint venture production pact with the firm. The prodco’s establishment does not effect Ramsay’s existing prodco, One Potato Two Potato, which is operated as a joint venture with All3-owned Optomen Television.
Other new prodcos included Primal Media, the new firm from Mat Steiner and Adam Wood, the execs behind Gogglebox Entertainment, which received backing from Lionsgate.
The Story Lab, a new content arm from ad agency Dentsu Aegis, is another newbie getting into the formats game more deeply, with a goal of 20 formats on air by the end of next year. A raft of high profile staff has been drafted in to help achieve the lofty goal.
Survival series also remained popular throughout 2016, but the era of big beards looks like coming to an end with the demise of Duck Dynasty. A&E revealed in November it was cancelling the show.
In the US, broadcast net CBS ordered a gameshow based on app game Candy Crush Saga, proving format ideas can come from anywhere. CBS also re-hired Ghen Maynard for the second time, this time to launch an unscripted division at its television studios arm.
In other US news, ABC ordered Five to Survive, a new gameshow created by Ricky Gervais that’s being made by the US arm of Banijay Group.
Copycats and legal eagles
The year in formats was defined by the re-emergence of the debate around protecting IP. A spat between FremantleMedia prodco Abot Hamieri and Banijay erupted on the eve of MIPCOM – the timing was no accident according to Banijay – and is set to see the pair take each other on in court. The dispute centres on the All Against 1 format.
Jonathan Coad represents Abot Hamieri. Speaking about the challenge of protecting IP says internationally there is better recognition at a court level of the value of IP. “This has resulted in a rich body of case law which becomes ever more influential – especially in the major territories,” he says. “In the end though, IP protection is primarily in the hands of the IP owner who has to take proactive steps to ensure that the value of their investments is not lost to plagiarists.”
The grey area between copying and simply having similar ideas arguably becomes more confusing given the world is getting smaller and worldwide trends inform development across different continents.
“Global development is being led by global trends, so we are seeing similar formats coming to market,” says ITV Studios executive VP, global development and formats Mike Beale. “There is however a moral directive on producers and broadcasters alike to respect each other’s IP as we only damage our own industry in the long run.”
Australian commercial network Nine pulled its cooking competition series The Hotplate after the format became the centre of a dispute with Seven Network, which claimed the show was strikingly similar to its popular programme My Kitchen Rules (pictured).
Has protecting IP become more difficult in the past 12 months? “Very much so, especially if you have a very successful format such as Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank, which is often copied,” says Jane Dockery, senior VP, international distribution, Sony Pictures Television.
“Increasingly we’re seeing format infringement cases in Africa, Asia and even with some of the bigger territories, which is disappointing. On a positive note, we have been successful in convincing some rip-offs to licence the format to then bring them in line with our production guidelines and branding.”
Industry group Frapa responded to the year’s IP issues by saying it will issue a new guide to the legal options available to producers who think their IP has been infringed.
In other legal wrangles, ITV is taking the founders of the Duck Dynasty prodco, Gurney Productions, to court over alleged fraud, with Scott and Deirdre Gurney in turn counter suing. Discovery Communications is also locked in a dispute with LMNO Productions over the financials of reality series 7 Little Johnstons.
In terms of format trends Armoza Formats’ Avi Armoza says 2016 was not a year in which broadcasters were taking risks.
“There has been a stronger tendency towards playing it safe this year, which has highlighted the increasing importance of a strong and varied catalogue with proven successes,’ he says.
Armoza launched Curvy Supermodel, one of several series this year about body image, at MIPCOM. Avi Armoza notes that the next big thing often happens when people are least expecting it, but that it didn’t happen this year. “Everyone had big expectations for 2016, and all were waiting for the next big thing to come out,’ he says.
“It didn’t happen, however, partly because we find ourselves in a very cautious market at this time, and people now have fewer expectations that it will be discovered in 2017.”
ITV Studios’ Mike Beale agrees it was a year of playing it safe. “Twenty-sixteen definitely saw a shift to ‘tried-and-tested’ projects,” he says.
“This related to both new formats in which buyers looked beyond episode one or even first seasons and wanted to see returning success, and also evergreen formats that have consistently worked around the world.”
If there was a lack of willingness to take a punt on edgier ideas, content companies with those evergreen shows were able to the most of their catalogue. New deals for Shark Tank, X Factor and other heritage shows underline the point.
“Twenty-sixteen saw a lot of format revivals, particularly in the gameshow space, which is good for companies like Sony Pictures Television that have hit show classics such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Pyramid,” says Jane Dockery. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to sell new IP, as broadcasters are still very risk averse.”
Carlotta Rossi Spencer, head of format acquisitions at Banijay Group agrees with Dockery and Beale. Asked if it was a good year in the formats business she says: “Overall, it was a year that was positive for older, more traditional brands. Just think about the successful ABC summer Sunday night: Celebrity Family Feud, Pyramid and Match Game.”
There have been some riskier shows, she adds, but these are niche offerings. “There have been some very interesting and high-level experiments, which are more docu-driven than format-based and are, for now, still niche products,” she says.
Going against the grain, US cable channel A&E launched one of the highest concept, risky formats for years with 60 Days In, in which participants go undercover into real prisons for two months.
Jez Lee, an exec producer at Australia’s Seven Networks’ London-based prodco Seven Wonder, thinks the show will lead a move into greater authenticity in entertainment shows. “A&E set the bar high in 2016 with 60 Days In, now we’ve got to go further,’ he says.
This was also the year that A+E has recruited former Fox, Sony and Shine executive Hayley Babcock to spearhead a drive into international formats.
A modest opportunity?
“The same big talent shows still dominate the schedules, but are showing signs of fatigue, so broadcasters are experimenting with more medium sized formats such as social experiments, which are relatively inexpensive to produce and can make a lot of noise in the schedule,” says Dockery.
The onus on risk taking sits not just with channels, but producers too. Rossi Spencer says the biggest disappointment this year has been a “lack of courage, both from broadcasters and from producers”.
There is agreement that the big-budget primetime end of the market is dominated by a handful of talent shows and perhaps the era of new international mega hit entertainment formats has passed. One of that elite group of talent shows, BBC Worldwide’s Dancing with the Stars, was cancelled by Network Seven in Australia this year. Fox in the US is, meanwhile, phasing out American Idol.
“The format market remained a healthy one in 2016, despite the lack of a breakthrough runaway primetime hit,’ says Laura Burrell, head of formats, programming sales, Viacom International Media Networks.
“There is a sense now that the international market is populated by lots of medium-sized hits rather than a handful of mega-hits. Whilst overall this is a welcome development, the downside has been an increase in the number copyright infringement disputes as ideas frequently overlap.”
VIMN had probably the closest thing to a new breakout international hit in 2016 with Lip Sync Battle travelling first from the US to the UK, and then to a host of other territories. The celeb-heavy song performance show, which started out as a segment in Jimmy Fallon’s talkshow, is now on air or in production in 17 territories worldwide.
Taking a similar approach to carving a format out of a gameshow segment, TBS has greenlit a comedy-music series from CBS talk show star James Corden and producer Ben Winston. Like Carpool Karaoke, which has been picked up by Apple, Drop the Mic is based on a segment from The Late, Late Show with James Corden and is already a popular online.
VIMN’s Ex on the Beach also proved its format credentials with local versions launched in France, Finland, Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Brazil in 2016.
Victoria Yarmoshuk, organiser of Kiev Media Week, argues that broadcasters shouldn’t worry about a new breakout hit format because it is probably out there already out there… somewhere.
“I would say or even wish to the channels all over the world stop waiting from another Big Thing, but rather concentrate on research and looking for formats that are most appropriate for your particular audience,” she says. “Viewers today has so much choice of channels, platforms and means to watch content that main task of the broadcaster is to give him that particular format and content he is looking for. The ‘Next Big Thing’ for your viewer already 99% exists.”
Netflix, Amazon and Apple get into unscripted
Amazon spent hundreds of millions of The Grand Tour, the rival to BBC Worldwide’s top format Top Gear. The e-commerce giant has used the show as a springboard for a huge international launch.
Netflix, meanwhile, in May ordered Ultimate Beastmaster, its first reality series. The competition series, which will localised, will be produced by movie star Sylvester Stallone and The Biggest Loser producer Dave Broome. The show will see competitors take on “one of the most demanding obstacle courses ever devised”.
The team behind the biggest pop science series of all time, Mythbusters, is making White Rabbit, a new entertainment show for Netflix. The SVOD firm also ordered an unscripted series featuring social media star Cameron Dallas. The untitled series will follow Dallas, who has more than 35 million followers across five platforms, as he tries to take his career to the next level.
An international power shift?
“More countries are developing, distributing and acquiring formats,” she says.
“For example, Japan has long been a successful format developer and distributor, but more recently great IP has also been coming from South Korea, China and other countries in the region.”
A similar point about Asia as an emerging formats force was made by K7 Media’s Keri Lewis at this year’s ATF. All3Media International, meanwhile, has looked to get in early in this respect, backing the first ever Formats Pitch at ATF, which was won by Singapore’s Xtreme Media.
“We arguably also saw the start of a geographical power-shift this year,” says Viacom’s Laura Burrell. “Many places that were once only format importers are becoming format exporters. South Korea was the new kid on the block in 2016.”
In tune with that, CJ E&M’s Grandpa Over Flowers was sold into Italy by Small World IFT, having already had a US remake.
In April, Endemol Shine Group and South Korea’s CJ E&M created a large-scale international coproduction pact. This will see the pair jointly creating, producing and distributing formats and series for the international market, with all intellectual property equally shared.
“Going back to the idea of the geographical power-shift, I predict that China will become a major player in format exportation in the next 12 months,” one formats buyer says.
China may well become a bigger exporter, but challenges caused by local regulation and a spat between Talpa and its local production partner over The Voice have seen the import market contract. One producer on the ground tells TBI that the copycat row has set the market back severely and ushered in a new wave of forgers, a state of affairs that the industry hoped was a thing of the past.
ITV did strike a new deal in China, however. As a result, Huace will remake one of its shows in the territory, and it will then sell the show outside of Asia.
The number of format-originating countries has expanded beyond the UK, Netherlands and US over the years, and that trend continued this year. That also makes tracking them a bigger challenge for buyers (of course, TBIVision.com can help here), and marketing them a bigger challenge for sellers.
“The market continues to expand with new players creating formats globally,” says ITV Studios’ Beale. “It is getting harder for buyers to stay across all the shows launched so as sellers we have to get better in ensuring all our titles are heard as there are some great formats out there.”
The central and eastern Europe region is also seeing a greater volume of local production and Ukraine, in particular, had a standout year. Victoria Yarmoshuk, who runs Media Resources Management, says: “In our part of the world we really see positive changes in the market of formats as far as more and more formats from the region travels far beyond its borders.
“Formats from Latvia, Romania, Ukraine and Hungary today could be as successful as ones from UK or Holland. The world now understands that creativity could come from every corner of the world.”
Ukraine’s TV business had stalled amid the political conflict with Russia, but is getting back on track. Comedy drama format Servant of the People was licensed to Fox for a US remake, and Netflix acquired the finished version.
Elsewhere, the CEE region’s importance as a buyer was underlined with a long term deal for evergreen format The Farm across a raft of CME channels in the region agreed in December.
In Lat Am, the international arm of Israel’s Keshet is setting up a new regional production and distribution hub, Keshet MX. Endemol Shine and BBC Worldwide have also teamed up, and the former will now make BBC formats in Brazil.
If getting new ideas away on linear nets is a challenge, streaming platform moving into entertainment can only be good news for format players, and this was the year Amazon and Netflix got into the space.
“Certainly, the fact that mega platforms such as Amazon and Netflix are starting to look at the format world with growing attention means that there is more room to experiment and grow,” says Zodiak’s Rossi Spencer. “It also means that there is potentially more room for creativity, the same room that is constantly disappearing with traditional broadcasters.”
Crystal ball gazing
In terms of M&A Beta Film made a push into formats by buying a minority stake in Lineup Industries, the indie distributor set up in 2014 by former Sony and Endemol execs Ed Louwerse and Julian Curtis.
As Lineup, which sells formats including Long Lost Family and Radio Gaga, heads into the new year with Beta behind it, Curtis says 2017 will bring new SVOD opportunities for distributors equipped to deal with them.
“Twenty-sixteen saw the emergence of the SVOD platforms as credible players on the light entertainment and formats market,” he says. “We believe this trend will continue and present tremendous opportunities for the right format and roll out models.
“Following our discussions we’ve become more and more convinced that the nimble and flexible approach an independent player can brings will be key. On the other hand, we are not sure how the big production groups will be able to handle these demands, with the territorial exclusivities that are woven into the fabric of their business model.”
With Netflix and Amazon moving beyond original drama and into entertainment and formats show production will evolve. This will now, however, present producers and distributors with an either/or option, according to TBI’s sources. “Funding models are changing,” says Suzanne Kendrick, BBC Worldwide’s formats chief. “Linear, pay and online platforms are interested in sharing production costs and windowing the content.”
Traditional broadcasters, meanwhile, need big primetime entertainment shows, which spells opportunity for formats creators and owners. Could 2017 be the year viewers get more involved?
“Live and interactive shows have not yet realised their full potential and this is something that will play a big role in 2017,” says Avi Armoza, one of several contributors who said there will be new ways of embracing technology in the coming year’s formats.
Digital distribution and technology also creates new ways to release entertainment shows. “Take Skam [Shame] in Norway,” says Zodiak’s Spencer Rossi. “It’s released digitally during the week, sometimes several episodes per week. Nobody knows when, so it creates a type of event with a massive buzz. It goes on linear TV, but many have already watched it on their devices. This is a typical example of how content follows new business models, guided by the digital dimension.”
In the world of scripted TV, meanwhile, there is talk of ‘peak drama’ and a sense that the economics of making so much drama does not stack up for many of the channels investing. If channels start to question the cost of drama, entertainment formats offer a cost-effective alternative.
“Unscripted is going to bounce back in a big way once the scripted bubble starts to deflate,” says Sony’s Dockery. “The appetite for social experiments will continue and I predict a big comeback for the game show, as it’s still the most effective type of programming for bringing the whole family together.”
ITV’s TwoFour’s This Time Next Year was cited time and again as the defining show of the year. The ‘time travel’ series, in which viewers see participants set out a major life goal before ‘immediately’ returning to detail if they achieved it.
As well as the neat set-up, execs hail the sales strategy, whereby TwoFour Rights shopped it around the world before it had even launched in the UK.
“It stood out because the format was sold into numerous territories way before it had debuted on ITV,” says Viacom’s Laura Burrell. “With no track record or finished episodes to rely on, this would have been a risky acquisition for many format buyers. However, these presales prove that when an idea is good it can stand by itself without the backing of ratings or track record.”
Red Arrow bought Wahlburgers prodco 44 Blue this year, adding to its unscripted stable.
Another of its prodcos, Denmark’s Snowman, created Married at First Sight. The series is now in over 20 countries, with France’s M6 among the recent spate of deals for a local version.