Surveys leading distributors about the kinds of formats that are in high demand across Western and Eastern Europe.
While the U.K. has long represented the crown jewel for format sales in Europe, distributors are finding some valuable gems elsewhere in the region. The proliferation of niche channels has created new opportunities for localized content in a number of countries in Western Europe. And across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), budgets are getting better and buyers are beginning to evaluate remakes for slots outside of prime time.
On both sides of the continent, though, mega formats continue to reign supreme. Channel surfing in any major European market will no doubt bring to the screen one (or all) of the uber-successful, long-running talent competitions. Among them, Dancing with the Stars has seen resounding success across the whole of Europe, having been licensed everywhere from Poland, Croatia and Bulgaria to Germany, Italy and France.
“Family-entertainment shows like Dancing with the Stars are high on broadcasters’ wish lists,” says Suzanne Kendrick, the head of global format sales at BBC Worldwide.
She believes that audiences in Europe are currently looking for “feel-good, warm entertainment,” and says that a format like You’re Back in the Room, which is a game show with a comedic twist that families can watch together, is particularly appealing. Kendrick also has high hopes for the recently launched, music-infused trio of Let It Shine, Let’s Sing and Dance and Pitch Battle in the region.
Another family-friendly proposition performing well for BBC Worldwide is The Great Bake Off, a factual-entertainment format positioned for weekday prime time. “There are a lot of opportunities for those kinds of fact-ent shows at the moment across Europe,” says Kendrick. “Bake Off is now in 25 countries, everywhere from the Nordics to Romania.” There’s also a spin-off, Bake Off: Crème de la Crème, which recently launched in France as Bake Off: The Professionals.
THAT’S A FACT
“Western Europe has a real appetite for factual entertainment, and I’m seeing this opening up more and more in CEE as well,” says Lucy Roberts, the sales manager for EMEA North at all3media International. “New territories are still picking up Gogglebox—most recently, CTC in Russia—and another local version will soon be announced. We recently launched 10 Years Younger on Markíza in Slovakia. This has subsequently been licensed by TV Nova in the Czech Republic, and I will soon be able to announce another new format with Nova as well.”
In CEE, all3media International has found “a huge appetite” for constructed reality, including Day and Night. “This format, which is a juggernaut in its home territory of Germany, is going from strength to strength in Ukraine on Novy and in Hungary on RTL, which has commissioned over 1,400 episodes so far.”
Natalie Bushaeva, regional sales director for formats in CEE at Endemol Shine Group, says that so-called “super brands”—the likes of Big Brother, MasterChef, The Biggest Loser, Your Face Sounds Familiar and Deal or No Deal—continue to deliver in the region. “The spin-offs of these titles work really well too,” she adds, highlighting sales for MasterChef Junior in Poland and Ukraine, Your Face Sounds Familiar Kids in Hungary, and VIP Brother and Big Brother All Stars in Bulgaria.
“In Central and Eastern Europe, entertainment is still one of the most popular genres, and big, shiny, prime-time shows work extremely well across the region,” Bushaeva says. “Your Face Sounds Familiar continues to be a flagship show for us; it’s sold to 39 markets overall and 16 are in CEE. Romania was one of the first countries to pick up the show following its success in Spain, and we just finished an 11th season there.”
There’s also The Brain, which started as a one-off special in Germany and has now been commissioned as a series in Russia, Poland, Serbia and Croatia.
HERE TO ENTERTAIN
“Another entertainment format we see potential in the region for is I Can See Your Voice, which is a Korean show that we successfully adapted in Bulgaria and have deals in the pipeline for in other CEE markets,” notes Bushaeva.
The Bulgarian treatment of I Can See Your Voice has left CJ E&M, which is behind the music-based series, enthused that Korean formats can, indeed, work in this part of the world.
“There is always an appetite for studio entertainment formats like game shows or music competition shows,” says Albert Park, the company’s sales manager, citing a growing number of inquiries for studio-based prime-time series. “Also, given the success of our original travel reality format Grandpas Over Flowers as Better Late Than Never in the U.S., this format has been traveling well across Europe. We are very excited about its commissions in Italy and Turkey.”
In Western Europe, CJ E&M has been co-developing shows with partners in a bid to create IP that can be exploited across the European market.
“We have noticed increasing demand for Korean scripts for local adaptation in Central Europe,” Park says. “We are seeing the growing importance of Eastern Europe, as the market is opening up for foreign content.”
Mediaset Distribution has done solid business in Europe with selling some of its big Italian dramas, including A Matter of Respect, as scripted formats. This has mainly been in Western Europe, according to Manuela Caputi, the company’s head of international sales, since budgets can be a significant factor when it comes to scripted remakes.
“We sold one of our scripted formats to TF1 in France, and it was definitely very costly to produce, in order to maintain the look, feel and quality of the program,” she says. “It is true that the Western territories that have higher budgets can guarantee the best outcome for certain types of formats. This is especially important nowadays because viewers are used to seeing very beautifully produced scripted series coming from all over the world. The quality standard has gotten very high!”
Caputi says that Mediaset Distribution is making a concerted push now in CEE for both its scripted series such as Tuscan Passion and Antimafia Squad as well as its new slate of entertainment formats.
“In the last year, a lot of buyers in Central and Eastern European countries have started to ask for script rights for our drama series,” notes Şenay Taş, sales director for CEE at Global Agency.
She says that the company’s sales for its finished dramas have always been strong in this region, but more opportunities are presenting themselves for local adaptations nowadays, even for comedy. “It’s actually very hard to sell finished Turkish comedies, but if [buyers] like the idea of a show, they have their own writers adapt it.”
Global Agency has also been making moves in Europe with its catalog of unscripted formats, including the game show Lucky Room, the cooking series My Wife Rules and the singing talent competition Bring Your Fame Back.
Taş cites a number of option deals in Western Europe. “There are a lot more players there—a lot more broadcasters, more producers, more production companies. Compared to Central and Eastern Europe, [buyers in Western Europe] are optioning more and are looking into all different kinds of shows. Whereas in Central and Eastern Europe, they are looking more at cost-effective formats, the daily stripped ones.”
She says that there are fewer channels in CEE on the whole—and also fewer that can afford to produce formats locally. “When we sell a format there, usually it’s a direct license; we license it directly to the channel and they, in turn, find the production company to work with. Whereas in Western Europe, it can go to a production company and they then pitch it to broadcasters. The markets work quite differently in that sense.”
Taş does not, however, see too many differences in the format genres that are in demand in these two territories. “What sells well in Western Europe usually sells well in Eastern—and vice versa,” she says. “The difference is that in Western Europe they take more risks; buyers are open to a wider variety of genres. That’s also because they are consuming TV in a different way. There are more niche channels, so it’s a broader audience. Western Europe can also dare to look into big factual reality whereas Eastern Europe goes for cooking shows, game shows and ones that are more cost effective.”
She mentions that prime time in Central and Eastern Europe is dominated by the format behemoths that come with solid track records. “Central and Eastern European buyers are a bit scared of paper formats; this is not the case in Western Europe—if they really believe in an idea, they would go for a paper format. They have the know-how and the money, and they take more risks.”
all3media’s Roberts echoes that sentiment. “The main difference I see between Western and Eastern Europe is simply in who will go for a format first. Western Europe will tend to pick up a new format quickly; Eastern Europe will spot the really good formats and watch their progress and come to the commissioning decision once there is a little more of an international track record.”
But, once a show has proven to work successfully in one CEE country, others in the region come on board quite quickly. “These countries see each other as a very good reference—if a show is successful in Serbia, for example, they are pretty sure it will be successful in Croatia and so on,” says Taş.
Not too long ago, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe were bogged down by economic recession, leaving program buyers in the region with a tight grip on their checkbooks. However, the television market has been steadily rebounding. Broadcasters in CEE are now beginning to look at a wider range of genres for varied slots.
“Until recently, I would have said that Central and Eastern Europe was still really just focused on big prime-time shows and not very much else, while in Western Europe there was much more opportunity for factual entertainment and daily access slots,” says BBC Worldwide’s Kendrick. “We have seen that change in the last couple of years. There is more opportunity for factual entertainment in Central and Eastern Europe than there used to be. Bake Off is traveling across the region now. We’ve had some success with Honey We’re Killing the Kids—we’ve done that in Ukraine and Poland—and a second season of Junior Doctors is on TVP2 [in Poland].
“We’re seeing some good opportunities for scripted too,” Kendrick continues. “We just closed a deal on Mistresses with Markíza in Slovakia. We recently had a Czech version of Life on Mars on ČT1, and it won its slot. There is more opportunity than there used to be in Central and Eastern Europe across the entire genre set.”
BBC Worldwide is in business with broadcasters all across Europe, but Kendrick points to Poland as being something of a hotspot at the moment. “They’ve got a great TV market there, with more linear and nonlinear players that are creating new opportunities across the catalog, especially in light entertainment and factual entertainment,” she says. “That potentially will help drive the rest of the region. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are both doing really great things in scripted and factual. Russia is coming back into the game a little bit more, especially for scripted and light entertainment.”
Endemol Shine’s Bushaeva says that Greece is becoming quite an active market for format sales. “It’s interesting to see the mix of new and old shows on Greek television and the movement of the formats from channel to channel. Deal or No Deal originally aired on Antenna, and then last year it was commissioned by Alpha and drew in excellent numbers. Meanwhile, MasterChef initially aired on Mega and recently relaunched on Star.”
Global Agency’s Taş is also keeping an eye on the Greek TV market. “Greece has opened up a lot for us; that’s big because previously we were not able to sell formats there really,” she says. “We are also becoming very successful in the Balkans with our formats. Those are quite small territories and there are not too many channels, so it’s tough to get in and have a format produced there.
“In Western Europe, we believe that we will break through to both Spain and Italy,” Taş adds. “We have done sales there before for formats, but now it looks like we’ll be able to sell a bit more; I see a big potential there.”
Poland is listed by all3media’s Roberts as a country to watch. “We have established brands continuing to work well there—Gogglebox, Kitchen Nightmares, Families at the Crossroads, Cases of Doubt. Many broadcasters there are buying formats for secondary channels, and I’ve even had several discussions recently about formats for online channels.”
Roberts says that across CEE, formats are still primarily being commissioned by the main free-to-air networks. “I am having more conversations now with broadcasters who are saying that they are going to be looking for formats for their secondary channels in the near future though,” she adds.
Roberts is also feeling optimistic about licensing formats into different dayparts. “More slots are opening up in CEE outside of those usual weekend prime-time slots reserved for the big shiny-floor formats,” she says. “There is much more [demand] for access-prime-time shows to strip across the week, plus factual entertainment is becoming more and more of a need. One area I’m very excited about is scripted. We’re enjoying a lot of success at the moment with our South Pacific Pictures catalog, with two local adaptations of our light, romantic drama Step Dave.” One is a version for the CIS produced by the Ukrainian production company FILM.UA, and TV2 in Hungary will be airing a Hungarian version.
Nevertheless, prime time remains the home for the lion’s share of format commissioning in this part of the world. But if what has been working well in those slots is still working well, where are the opportunities to roll out new entertainment shows?
“Slot availability can be a challenge,” says BBC Worldwide’s Kendrick. “Everybody wants big prime-time weekend shows, but they’ve also got a lot of juggernauts in those slots—one of those is Dancing with the Stars. It does mean that sometimes if you’ve got great new content, you might have to wait for a slot to open up. Some broadcasters are experimenting with trying more cost-effective entertainment shows mid-week.”
Another challenge comes down to costs. “In Central and Eastern Europe, budgets are still something that’s predominant in how they approach shows,” Kendrick says. “The commercial broadcasters are looking for formats that have the opportunity for some kind of branded commercialization around the show. They need to find those revenues to put toward the production budgets.”
LEARNING TO SHARE
Given CEE buyers’ predilection for buzzy prime-time shows, and the costs that come with them, shared production hubs are one of the ways that producers in the region are working around budget concerns. “In the past, we have created hubs for Wipeout, Fear Factor and The Money Drop, and we’ve also facilitated very successful pan-Balkan versions of Big Brother and The Brain,” says Endemol Shine’s Bushaeva. “We are considering several locations for The Wall at the moment.”
The issue of budgets is one of the reasons that Mediaset Distribution is betting on its new slate of unscripted formats to drum up interest with CEE buyers at NATPE Budapest. “In our catalog, we have some less costly formats that are still very original ideas, like The Phone Secrets,” says Caputi. “The show can be done with a very low budget and the outcome can still be brilliant. Of course, when you talk about prime time you need so many elements that do raise the cost of the production, but if you can also look at other slots or work with a unique idea, magic can be done even with not such a big budget.”
Global Agency’s Taş says that while budgets are always a challenge, the company is diligent about working with its partners in the region to make format deals feasible for both sides. “We do our best to come to a license fee that they feel is OK for them because they then have to produce the show, which costs a lot.
“I see the biggest challenge as making them believe in an idea and take the risk rather than the license fees that are being discussed,” she says. “It’s rare that a sale would be dropped because a client feels that the format-license fee is too high. For them, the risk of licensing something that might not work is a bit scary.”
CJ E&M’s Park agrees that the majority of format buyers in Europe remain risk-averse, suggesting that “it usually requires patience as well as an impressive track record” to crack a market. The company is, nonetheless, bullish about making further inroads in the region.
“Even though the European market, in general, is saturated with existing and new formats from around the world, I still believe Europe is a pivotal market to enter into, especially for players like us who were latecomers to the format industry,” says Park. “There are so many opportunities to work with various partners, and the sheer number of distributors, production companies, networks, platforms and diversity of ethnic groups make the European market very attractive.”
Pictured: Endemol Shine’s Your Face Sounds Almost Familiar.