Nick Smith, the senior VP of international format production at all3media international, speaks with TV Formats about the company’s success with constructed reality.
At the 2012 British Academy Television Awards, BAFTA introduced a new prize to honor shows capturing the reactions of real participants (as opposed to trained actors) who are put into situations that are pre-arranged by producers. The category was created to recognize the increasing popularity of constructed-reality programming.
all3media international represents a number of constructed-reality formats made by German producer Filmpool, which is part of the All3Media group. “They really are the market-leader in constructed-reality programming in Germany,” says Nick Smith, the senior VP of international format production at all3media international. “On one of the major channels in Germany, Sat.1, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. it’s constructed-reality formats all through that time. Only one that airs during that slot is not produced by Filmpool.”
Among the best-selling constructed-reality formats in the catalog is Filmpool’s Day and Night, which follows a group of young adults sharing an apartment in the middle of a city. “It’s like a docusoap except that you don’t have to shoot for hours and hours to get amazing moments,” says Smith. The show has been a hit in Germany, where it dominated the time slot previously held by Big Brother. It’s also been licensed in a number of other European territories. “It just launched in Ukraine and Bulgaria recently,” says Smith. “It’s doing really well in places like Hungary,” and is about to launch in Serbia.
Another successful constructed-reality format for the company is Cases of Doubt, also a Filmpool production, which contains closed-ended episodes much like a scripted procedural. “It looks at a woman with somebody in her life who she suspects may have committed a crime, and by the end of the episode you find out if they have or not and you get a resolution to that,” says Smith.
There is also Filmpool’s Families at the Crossroads, spotlighting families in crisis. The show, according to Smith, features “topics that you might see covered on a talk show…. But because it’s actually in the real world—seeing it through actors—it really brings it to life.”
Regarding what makes constructed-reality formats appealing, Smith says: “Firstly, they’re cost-effective to produce. For example, Day and Night actually costs about half the price of a standard soap. Once you follow the guidance that we give, it’s easy to produce good quality with non-trained actors…. Also, they can be turned around very quickly.”
According to Smith, constructed-reality shows are easier to adapt than other types of factual formats. “You’re not relying on people reacting in a certain way,” he says. “You know exactly what you want people to do, you tell them what to do and they do it. So you’ve got the simplicity of scripted but you don’t have to worry about spending hours in the edit [room to find] where the good stories lay. You don’t have to film that much; you can be quite efficient in that sense.”
Alongside Germany, there has been a strong demand for constructed reality across Central and Eastern Europe. “We have produced hundreds of hours in the region,” says Smith. “Russia has been a big buyer of the formats,” and so has Poland. The company recently secured its first deal for a constructed-reality format in Latin America. “We’re really excited about that and hope that [will result in] our formats traveling more in that region,” he says. “I am predicting that we’ll get a wave of Latin American deals over the next year or two.”
Over the years, Smith has observed a sort of domino effect when it comes to the commissioning of constructed-reality formats. “What tends to happen is the broadcaster that comes in first, it works for them so they buy another one…and then the other main broadcaster wants to come on board…. And then it tends to be that the country next door says, Hold on, my neighboring country’s got four of these types of shows on air—maybe we should try one!”
Smith notes that constructed reality—which he describes as more of a production method than an actual genre—is “working really well” for all3media international, with the company on the hunt for more. “Other than the Filmpool shows that we have coming to our catalog, we have acquired a constructed-reality show from TF1 in France, and we’re also looking at a show from another European country at the moment that we’re hoping to take into our catalog.”
Moving forward, all3media international is launching its first medical constructed-reality format, which will be set in a hospital. “We’ve had a lot of shows that have focused on crime and on police, so [medical] has actually been a demand from a lot of our format buyers,” says Smith. “We’re excited that we’ll be able to bring in something new.”