Op-ed: Finding new diamonds in formats

Larry Bass, CEO of Irish producer ShinAwil, on how to find original formats in an increasingly competitive market.

Despite the sun shining brightly on Le Croisette, it was difficult not to notice the waning delegate numbers at this year’s MIPTV.

Indeed, it was hardly surprising that organisers declared on Monday that they would be introducing new initiatives to create a ‘re-imagined’ event next year.

Despite the dwindling numbers it was pleasing to see execs and producers still striking business deals, developing new ideas and even embarking on a small bit of gossip around the Palais. And at the MIPFormats event, a precursor to the main MIPTV market over the weekend, it was interesting to see news ways of thinking and moving the business forward being discussed, following a period of two or three years which has seen very few break-out format hits.

This time around there was an acceptance that something completely fresh isn’t always the right way forward. In a world where the formats market is 20 years old and seemingly ever expanding it’s getting much more difficult to find that diamond. But sometimes that diamond can be a reboot, reversion or just a tweak.

Surveys may tell us that audiences are tired of the same old cookery, quiz and dancing shows, but look how successful a returning format like ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?’ has been for ITV recently. My kids weren’t old enough to watch the original version and now can’t get enough of the revamped format.

But that’s not to say producers have given up on developing the big new ideas.

One panel session concluded that there are now more opportunities for paper formats than ever before. In my opinion, pitching a great show on the back of an envelope or a cigarette packet is just as valid as great piece of tape. Indeed, our company has a lot of paper formats as we work in a TV landscape where money from broadcaster development money is becoming harder to secure. One could even argue this lack of funding actually breeds creativity.

My company ShinAwiL has adapted formats such ‘Dancing With Stars’ and Dragons’ Den’ for our domestic audience and we were on the lookout at the market for more gems to bring back to Ireland.  As I dashed from meeting to meeting, what struck me in particular the strength in depth of scripted formats this time around – particularly interesting for us as we have just recently launched a new drama division. Newen was showcasing some really strong titles in this genre including Candice Renoir’, procedural police drama ‘The Room’ and ‘Ouro’. Armoza Formats, Lagardère and Copenhagen-based Reinvent Distribution also had some interesting dramas that have real potential for local adaptation.

But we’re equally focused on developing new and exciting formats and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve formed a strategic alliance with Zig Zag Productions in the UK – a move that sees us co-develop and coproduce original unscripted projects, while representing each other’s formats across the Irish border.

It all comes at a time where linear broadcasters continue to see their ratings slide, so it’s never been more important to offer a mix of original ideas and the best shows the international market has to offer.

Who knows, we may have found the next big idea or pitched it ourselves in Cannes this week.

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