Back in August, Siobhan Crawford, head of sales & acquisitions at Belgian distributor Primitives, questioned if the format business had a future in a world dominated by derivative, talent-led ideas. Ahead of MIPCOM, she returns to discuss the industry’s response to the article and to offer an alternative approach for those heading to Cannes with format acquisitions in their sights.
Earlier this year, I asked if formats had a future in a world where commissioners are looking at talent instead of track record and where streamers are ignoring a sea of IP in favour of derivative paper ideas with worldwide rights.
The response was phenomenal. So many people reached out in agreement and support. Creatives and prodcos are unable to develop or acquire in a meaningful way whilst these programming briefs exist and it is time for change.
Someone very wise once told me: ignore the briefs and create unexpected formats – then change commissioners choices simply by showing them the possibilities
I had so many interesting conversations but it brought up more questions: why are creatives re-creating existing formats and calling them new? Should you be exploring the sea of content before creating/acquiring? Well, here’s where to start.
Step 1: Buy formats
The obvious response is to buy an original format, reward creatives who create and producers who adapt. Here are a few formats that you could acquire, which have the ‘authentic’ seal of approval.
Old: Brat Camp. Young adults and teens, wayward, in need of direction and in need of maturity, are taken to a rural retreat. First broadcast in 2005, available from Warner Bros. International Television Production, and with a track record in the UK and the US. Possible to produce on a snowy mountain. Or, if you want to support a small independent, you could also look to La Concepteria for The Older Brother.
New: Open Love. If you want to talk about innovation let’s talk about Open Love. Continuing the charge taken by ViacomCBS’s Prince Charming in broadening the dating category to be more inclusive, WeMake have progressed to dating without lines or boxes. This gender blind dating format leaves the audience guessing who will end up with who.
Spin-off: 99 To Beat. Full disclosure, this is distributed by my company but it has earned a mention for the following reason. Adapted from a five-minute segment into commercial hours for primetime, it now has a successful VIP and kids spin-off series. The likes of Discovery are seeking brands they can control and extend, like 90 Day Fiancé. But the innovation of 99 is what matters – collaboration from four companies to adapt an existing format to fit each of their needs.
Step 2: Be responsible
We are, internationally, stuck in a rut of recommissions, low-risk scheduling and reboots. The Covid ratings spike has passed, the world is opening up and we are losing eyeballs fast. Broadcasters are scared by this loss of viewership and are now hyper-aware of any content they commission. There is fear scheduling.
The market is also getting smaller: producers are finding less third-party content that is available to them due to mergers and acquisitions in the market, such as Banijay and Endemol Shine Group.
We also have the prodco group mentality of being “laser trained to retain as many rights as possible and focus on IP retention”, which raises the question about the creation of derivatives to maximise commercial potential. Then the streamers… enough said.
There are so many factors impacting our behaviour right now and with evolution of business models, perhaps we need to evolve the way we consider content too. Derivatives go against the essence of creatives and the principals of FRAPA, which so many creatives and companies proudly hold membership of yet forget in their practices.
I believe people should be aware of the content around them – and that includes creatives, who need to be informed about your competition and USPs. If you don’t know what formats exist in the market, reach out to K7 or The Wit, get informed and get original. To buy a paper format because the concept is original, I understand. To create and commission a paper format that is a derivative of another seems counterproductive when track record and established brands are the subscriber drivers that so many want.
Fear scheduling is one thing but this is an industry built on relationships and perhaps we need to do better when it comes to creating and acquiring.
Step 3: Create!
We know the genres that are needed: social experiment, dating, shiny floor and crime. Let’s completely ignore talent-led stories.
Or perhaps, as someone very wise told me, ignore the briefs and create unexpected formats, then we could change commissioners choices simply by showing them the possibilities.
If The Masked Singer has taught us anything, it is that bold works. Naked Attraction = bold works. Married At First Sight = bold works. Someone said to me it is harder to be a fan of other people’s content than your own, which is fine but follow the rule: if you create a format and you can think of another format that sits in the same space as it, move on – or acquire it! And if you need insight, speak to a distributor, because they will have many thoughts, of that I am sure.