Special report: The evolution of ‘powerhouse’ formats

In the second of four special reports, international consultancy K7 Media looks at how top-performing formats have changed with the times. K7 Media’s David Ciaramella reports.

In order to examine the trends driving the formats market, K7 Media’s Tracking the Giants report split a group of formats into six distinct categories.

The ‘Powerhouse’ formats are those that have been on the market for over 15 years, with 30% of its original sales still live. The ‘New Powerhouse’ contains those between six and 15 years old, again with 30% still live. Meanwhile, ‘Golden Oldies’ are the titles that are more than 15 years old but have 10% of their of international versions still in production, and ‘Strong Starters’ are the opposite – titles that are less than 15 years old, but of which 10% are still live.

Elsewhere, ‘Ones to Watch’ are the recent titles from the last five years, where half or more of their adaptations are still a going concern. This year, as detailed in part one of the report, we introduced a new category – New Beginnings – to track shows from between 2015 and 2018, with at least five sales, of which at least half are on air.

This week, we turn our attention to the question of longevity and the changes we’ve seen in the sort of formats that earn a place in the ‘Powerhouse’ brackets.

As the old-fashioned scramble to find the fabled ‘next big thing’ dwindles in an age of fragmented and time-shifted viewing, it will be harder for new formats to topple the ‘Powerhouse’ titans. The sheer reach and stamina of a format such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? looks to be impossible to replicate in the modern market. Over the last decade, the highest-selling format is The Voice, with 67 territory sales – but that is an outlier. Today, if a format reaches 25 territories it can be considered an impressive achievement.

The quiz show is still the best-selling genre of all time, and if successful in key markets, can be in the schedules for years to come. As well as Millionaire, you need only look at The Wheel of Fortune (CBS) and The Weakest Link (BBC Studios) to see that a legacy quiz show is still the golden goose of format development.

The corollary of that market dominance is, of course, that it is hard for new titles to break into the ‘Powerhouse’ category. Recent quiz shows have performed well, but even then find it hard to compete with the brand recognition and reliable returns of these juggernauts of old.

A similar situation can be seen in the makeover genre. An explosion of formats in this space in the 2000s seemed to have mined the concept dry, so the new makeover programmes that are selling well do so by mixing up the formula, adding fresh purpose and format points to the show. For example, Eat Well for Less (Banijay Rights) is, at its core, a household makeover but it uses concepts from cookery shows as a delivery mechanism.

There’s more movement in the ‘New Powerhouse’ category, where we are seeing more reality competitions with talent, business or survival twists dominating. Of our ‘Strong Starters’, there have been many game shows that have excited buyers in recent times, with titles selling very well and quickly, but this is a genre that is expensive to stage and hard to get right. Add in fickle audiences and these formats can sometimes be short-lived, and so we have seen game shows adding a new layer of challenge to their formats to improve their odds. Power Couple (Dori), Hollywood Game Night (pictured top; NBC) and Big Star’s Little Star (pictured above, ITVSGE) are all examples of how this can pay off.

Bringing the timeline closer to the present, in the ‘Ones to Watch’ and ‘New Beginnings’ categories we are seeing a ripple that may, eventually, become a wave that hits the ‘Powerhouse’ bracket. There’s a strong shift here towards more factual entertainment formats, and even ob-doc series, such as Secret Millionaire (Banijay Rights) and First Dates (WBITVP). We see “fact ent with a purpose” is a genre on the rise and we expect to see this reflected in future editions of the report.

Taking a broad view of our Top 100 Formats ranking, we see that it is dominated by three genres: game show, reality competition and factual entertainment. Each has a varying degree of presence across each of the six categories but taken as a whole, these are where the titans of the past came from, and it seems likely to be where the evergreen formats of the 2020s will be found.

David Ciaramella is communications manager for K7 Media.