Why formats in 2024 are about bankers, big swings & exploitation

Gladiators recently returned to UK screens on BBC One

Format reboots are proving more popular than ever, with a slew of both recent and iconic titles finding new or extended life. Andy Fry delves into this revival trend to see what’s next

The global format business is so diverse and dynamic that predicting its direction of travel is like forecasting next month’s weather. But as 2024 grinds into gear, it looks as though this year will be all about bankers, big swings and 360-degree exploitation.

‘Bankers’ isn’t an oblique reference to the return of Banijay’s Deal Or No Deal on ITV in the UK. It is recognition that the format business is more reliant on proven formats than ever. Laura Burrell, VP of international formats at Paramount Global Content Distribution, highlights that the “big trend” is the revival of classic formats, because buyers want shows that “can be relied on to deliver.”

This is evident in the recent renewal of social experiments like Big Brother (Banijay), reality series like Real Housewives (NBCU) and physical competition formats like Gladiators (MGM). But if there’s one corner of the market where reboots are especially hot, says Burrell, “it’s game shows.”

Examples include a refresh of Fremantle’s Family Feud in Mexico and the return of Sony Pictures Television’s Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune – both managed by Paramount. “These shows are really working,” says Burrell. “They are fun, they encourage co-viewing and they can be played along at home.”

Aside from being safe bets, they are also cost-efficient and flexible, adds Burrell, a major plus point in these difficult times. Jeopardy, for example, can be used as a primetime or daily show and lends itself to hubbing. Last year, a UK version (for ITV) and an Australian version (for Nine Network) were shot back-to-back in Manchester. Two seasons of the Swedish version were also shot one after the other.

Narrowing the odds

Reboots are often characterised as a failure of nerve by broadcasters, but Burrell stresses that getting them to land with a new generation of viewers is not a foregone conclusion. “They’re a safer bet, but they’re not a guaranteed hit. Part of the reason Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune broke through in the UK is because we managed to attach great hosts (Stephen Fry and Graham Norton, respectively).”

Ninder Billing, VP of unscripted international co-productions at A+E Media Group, agrees that classic formats are in vogue but that they need to be adrenalised to succeed.

“Shows like the BBC’s new Gladiators are delicious and delightful co-viewing,” she says. “What Gladiators shows is how invigorating an existing format can give it a fizzing energy.”

Billing also notes a new twist to the trend that has brought audiences celebrity and junior versions of shows. “At Realscreen this year, there was a buzz about ABC/Hulu’s The Golden Bachelor and that got us thinking about what we can do in the ‘golden’ space to serve the audience that came to [that show].”

“Reboots are immediately identifiable, they bring back emotions and memories, viewers trust them. But for how long?” Celine Cauderlier, M6’s Studio 89

Reboots only tell one side of the story, however. Broadcasters and platforms also need to take risks, making the ‘big swings’ that define schedules. Celine Cauderlier, director of production and development at M6 content division Studio 89, says reboots “are immediately identifiable, they bring back emotions and memories, viewers trust them. But for how long? That’s why we also need to be innovative with new formats.”

The big success for M6 has been The Traitors, which Cauderlier describes as “immediate, addictive and visually mindblowing,” adding that it “perfectly represents what we are looking for when adapting or creating a format.”

The Traitors has been a big success for M6 in France

Keep it simple

Cauderlier says a key strength is that the show tells “a simple but intriguing story, almost everything you have to know is in the title. With more and more content available, viewers need to immediately identify what they will get out of a format.”

The Traitors is proof that the right idea can still blow up into a global hit, even in an era of risk aversion. Billing calls it a “juggernaut”. And while A+E continues to place great store by its own power-brands such as Alone (recently licensed to SBS Australia), she says: “We’re also acquiring and investing in new formats – entertaining smart formats that offer an authentic approach to a universally relatable theme.”

The Traitors is not the only relatively new format to have captured buyers’ attention over recent years, with formats such as Too Hot To Handle, Lego Masters, The 1% Club and Beat My Mini-Mes also breaking through.

The latter, from Fox Alternative Entertainment, features celebrity singers facing off against each other while surrounded by children all wearing the same outfit.

One fan is Carmen Ferreiro, Atresmedia’s entertainment programme director, who acquired the format for Antena 3 in Spain and describes it as “an extraordinarily original show that fits perfectly with a family and entertainment channel such as Antena 3.”

For Ilanit Siman-Tov Hirsch, head of programmes and acquisition at Keshet Media Group, the key is to embrace the yin and yang of bankers and big swings.

Bankers include Dancing With The Stars for Keshet 12 and Rising Star, and Hirsch points out that “the combination of a singing competition show with finding the talent to represent Israel in Eurovision really works for us.”

Risk & reward

Keshet is also testing out newer formats too, however, with The Masked Singer debuting in recent years and The Traitors set to launch.

“We have produced Israel’s first season of The Traitors – it’s not broadcast yet, but the outcome is brilliant. We have a slot reserved for reality shows like this – we’ll test it out with our first season of The Amazing Race.”

Trendwise, Hirsch is seeing “many copycats of The Traitors but I’m not sure how long it will last. I’m sure we’ll see more and more formats circling around in this area, but I don’t know if it will have the same longevity as Big Brother or Dancing With The Stars.”

Hirsch agrees that cost effective game shows “are in their beauty hour” but points out that not all territories share the same taste.

“We’re seeing lots of attempts to find the next hit game show, but in Israel they are not working particularly well. Our focus is on talent shows, shiny floor entertainment formats and special live events – which allow us to fight for the viewers’ attention, in the way that live sporting events do.”

“Shows like the BBC’s new Gladiators are delicious and delightful co-viewing – it shows how invigorating an existing format can provide energy.” Ninder Billing, A+E Media Group

While some of these newer, heavyweight formats highlight that some new ideas are coming to market, the pursuit of big swings doesn’t mean buyers are willing to snap up ‘back of a napkin’ ideas.

Often, the job is more about turning over a thousand stones in the search for gems that can be scaled up into global phenomena. Burrell describes deep dives into the archive for half-forgotten shows (eg The Joe Schmo Show) and blowing up segments of shows into full scale formats – as happened with Carpool Karaoke, Lip Sync Battle and, most recently, The Line Up.

The latter, she says, was transformed from a short segment on The Late Late Show into a two-hour programme on France’s TF1.

Powering up co-creation pacts

Korea’s success with formats such as The Masked Singer continues to pay dividends, with format businesses looking to mine Asian creative genius in search of global hits and untapped IP. Fremantle has just optioned Seoul-based Something Special’s Battle In The Box for several markets, while Nippon TV’s Silent Library (originally a segment on Japanese TV) has just been picked up by RTL+.

East-West relations are typically characterised by co-creation – rather than the classic buy/sell model. Nippon TV director, global business, Yuki Akehi, says her company has enjoyed success with local adaptations of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and Doctor Foster (a scripted series from the BBC).

Right now, Akehi says the company is collaborating on “a super fun game show format called Koso Koso, with BBC Studios and Empire of Arkadia,” with a pilot airing succesfully on Nippon TV.

Akehi believes the prank show is indicative of a trend towards supporting “the greater good. A key feature is celebrities being willing to sacrifice comfort and luxury and take on challenges to win not for themselves, but for the non-celeb participants”.

Even if there are no celebs in the cast, adds Akehi, “the notion of going out on a limb for someone, like in 5 Friends, 5 Favours! and Baby Shower has gained traction”.

In a sense, the format business is all about brand extension – into new territories, out of the archive and with spin-offs. All3Media International’s enduring format Cash Cab has just spawned Cash Cab Music, for example, while Paramount’s Ex On The Beach now has a winter version, Peak Of Love.

But there is also a burgeoning trend towards 360-degree exploitation – beyond mugs and T-shirts into the digiverse.

Big Brother Knossi Edition is a Twitch-based branded content spin-off from the German version of the globally popular reality format

Well-documented is the launch of entertainment-based single IP FAST channels. But already this year there have also been the global expansion of the Masterchef World app, a branded content spin-off from Big Brother on Twitch in Germany (Big Brother Knossi Edition), and a virtual fashion line for The Voice.

On the latter, Jurian van der Meer, EVP of brand licensing & global partnerships at ITV Studios, tells TBI that the deal with Roblox to create virtual fashion “is the perfect way to connect one of our most successful brands with Gen Z.”

Turbocharging trends

Ongoing trends, such as the popularity of dating, are also evolving, with Burrell pointing to increased diversity in relationship shows, citing the reboot of Finding Prince Charming as an example. There is also a wave of entertainment formats based on iconic scripted IP – 007: Road To A Million and Squid Game: The Challenge.

Africa is also emerging as a significant format buyer (recent deals include NBCUniversal’s Real Housewives), while demand for budget efficiency is also encouraging expanded renewals – where shows come back with longer season orders (and perhaps increased episode lengths).

The pursuit of ‘bankers’ is also driving a new kind of deal, where broadcasters secure multiple shows from the same source.

HRT Croatia, which has aired ITV Studios’ The Chase and The Voice, has now picked up spin-offs Beat The Chasers and The Voice Kids, as well as A Year to Remember. Mario Sedmak, HRT head of entertainment, tells TBI he is “very happy with the continuous cooperation” with ITVS, highlighting the importance of partnerships amid turbulent times. “All ITV Studios shows at HRT are well received by audiences, so we are confident this will be the same for the brand new commissions too.”

And while the market is undoubtedly tough for producers and many distributors, there are chinks of light, some provided by global streamers looking for just the sort of cost-efficient of programming that formats can provide.

Netflix, for example, recently dropped its own Traitors lookalike The Trust: A Game Of Greed in multiple markets and unveiled a local version of Love Is Blind in the UAE, following previous adaptations in Brazil, Sweden and Japan.

With Amazon pursuing a similar strategy and Disney+ signing up for Fremantle’s Italia’s Got Talent, the streamers have put paid to the notion that unscripted formats are the exclusive preserve of linear broadcasters. And that must be good news for the entire business.

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