Kristin Brzoznowski investigates what it takes for a game-show format to stand out in today’s marketplace.
In a TV landscape awash with dark and complex dramas, and increasingly shocking and stressful news bulletins, the need for shows that can provide heavy doses of hopefulness and fun is supersized. If this escapism also provides an opportunity to get the whole family together, even better!
Game shows have long been a draw for broadcasters looking for cost-effective solutions to fill their schedules. And with audiences nowadays clamoring for an entertaining distraction from the hectic world around them, the genre is a veritable jackpot for format distributors.
While game shows are particularly hot at the moment, some in the industry would argue that these programs have never really gone out of style. “Game shows is one of the genres that will always be in demand,” says Amos Neumann, COO of Armoza Formats. “Sometimes it varies between more demand for prime-time shows and more demand for access-prime-time or stripped daytime shows, but the demand is always there.”
Global Agency’s founder and CEO, Izzet Pinto, agrees that game shows are perennially popular, unlike some of the other format genres. “In the past, we have seen declines in [the appetite for] talent shows, but for game shows it’s always quite stable,” he says, adding that budgets are a key factor for broadcasters at present. “If it’s a big game show with a big set that may require a production hub, buyers are staying away from that. Instead, they are mostly looking for cost-effective game shows.”
Peppering in some comedy helps add to the allure, Pinto says. Such is the case with Global Agency’s new game show Keep It or Lose It, which features contestants competing for prizes selected from a shopping mall. “There’s a good amount of humor in the show,” he points out. “The questions are usually silly and easy to answer, but the contestants make mistakes. At the end of the show, you see the products they get to keep and the ones they lost. Sometimes we will see the contestants upset and sometimes they’re so cheerful—it’s a great combination.”
Maintaining suspense throughout the episode holds the audience’s interest up to the finale as well, Pinto adds. “Some game shows are based on luck and for some, it’s more about knowledge or ability. Either way, up until the last minute, you don’t really know who is going to win, and that creates a lot of excitement, which is a key element for game shows.”
Nostalgia is another factor playing into buyers’ wish lists these days, according to Jonathan Tuovinen, COO and head of international at Rabbit Films, which produces a slew of game shows in Finland in addition to distributing its own format and ready-mades catalog. “Relaunching old game shows is still quite a big trend,” he says. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? continues to do super well in Finland. Wheel of Fortune has been brought back, and that’s doing really well. There’s also a local favorite, What’s the Word?, which ran for about 30 years in Finland; Rabbit brought it back this year and relaunched it to great success.”
Tuovinen continues, “For us, the trend has been to go retro. Relaunches of old favorites are popular with audiences who seem to crave familiar things, things that they saw in their childhood or know from the past. In addition to the people who are big fans of knowledge-based series and want to play along, there is a huge demographic of viewers who want to watch game shows to relax, have a good time and not stress. For that type of viewing, these [classic] formats do a really good job.”
He says that when bringing back a classic game show, it’s important for the series to be refreshed or updated a bit. “It could be as simple as changing the host,” he says. “It could be something like changing the set, making it a bit more modern, or maybe slightly changing parts of the format to be more fast-paced and exciting. You can also add in an interactive element; it might be an app that you can play with at home or a website that correlates with the gameplay.”
Sarah Tong, director of sales at Hat Trick International, has also taken note of this trend. “There continues to be a lot of demand for remakes of tried-and-tested formats, and there are a lot of older shows still on air,” she says. “Any new game shows need to be truly entertaining, which often means that they are humorous…. It’s humor, plus a lot of fun and silliness that we’re delivering in our new game show The Time It Takes.”
Another important element of a game show is interaction, Tong adds. “Audiences want something they can get involved in and play along with at home. There is also a real need for something different rather than another lineup of derivative formats with just a slight change of an element or two.”
At MIPCOM, Hat Trick is launching Football Genius, which Tong describes as “a physical and visually inspiring game show aimed at a sports-mad audience. It is completely fresh and innovative,” she says.
Inter Medya, which recently diversified its catalog with formats alongside its stable of hit Turkish dramas, also has an eye on innovation. “More than ever, we see a tendency toward game shows with an interactive spin as well as a technological twist,” says Can Okan, the company’s founder and CEO.
“In this age of technology, interactivity is inevitable for all businesses,” he adds. “It becomes ‘a must’ rather than a preference, since audiences feel more involved when they have the chance to interact. Rather than watching the show as passive viewers, they want to be more active.”
This activity can be provided in different ways, suggests Okan, such as answering trivia questions alongside the in-studio contestant or making guesses as to who the winner will be.
In addition to interactivity, innovation in the game-show arena has come in the form of hybrids—combining quiz elements with other genres, such as food, travel and more. Inter Medya, for example, is seeing traction build for The Perfect Couple, a dating reality show that features physical challenges.
At MIPCOM, Rabbit is launching the format Don’t You Know Who I Am?, a studio-based game show with a talk-show element and a celebrity spin. The show is set for a weekly run in prime time on Nelonen in Finland.
“In most territories, if you want to do a weekly, prime-time game show, it needs to be huge,” says Tuovinen. “You need to have a big studio and a big visual element. There’s no room for medium-sized game shows. If you want to be on in prime time and compete against drama series or hit reality franchises, then either go big or go home.”
Tuovinen adds that from a distribution perspective, there’s an entirely different market for access-prime-time game shows that can be stripped daily. “They are still very much [in demand] in France, Spain, southern Europe, Turkey and a lot of other territories,” he says. “For most broadcasters, these are staples of their grid. They fill a huge amount of time in the schedule, and broadcasters know for sure that they’ll get an audience. Coming from a place of risk aversion, you need that in your catalog.”
PLAYING THE SLOTS
“Prime time is definitely the focus for game shows,” says Hat Trick’s Tong. “Although, to a lesser degree, there’s certainly a market for daytime or teatime shows, as well as shows for niche channels. Often a format will launch in prime time but needs to be repeatable in daytime, or it may be originally trialed in daytime before moving to prime time.” The key, she adds, is adaptability.
“Most of our game shows are designed for prime time,” says Inter Medya’s Okan, pointing to the quiz-based formats 19 and 1 vs. 10. “Our catalog also consists of reality shows that cover both daily and weekly strips such as The Perfect Couple and Oasis. We strongly believe that it’s advantageous to have a variety of genres that are adaptable to different time slots.”
Global Agency is also a proponent of formats having scheduling flexibility. Keep It or Lose It, for example, has played in prime time in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Brazil. “But if it was produced in France or Germany, I can see it as an access-prime daily show,” says Pinto.
He also believes that for a game show to travel widely, there should be flexibility within the budget. Tweaking the set is one way this can be achieved. “Using the same games, you can make a set with an audience of a thousand people for a bigger show or make it with a very small set, or even have it take place outdoors, to have a less expensive project,” says Pinto. “Most of the cost comes with the set; if you play with that, the budget can become bigger or smaller.”
Armoza Formats’ Neumann agrees that scalability in game shows is largely related to the set. “You can make it bigger or smaller without changing the essence of the gameplay,” he says. “Look at Who’s Asking?: in India, it was a huge production, with Bollywood stars and a massive studio. Meanwhile, in Thailand it was a relatively small production, and the Swiss adaptation took a middle road. The show is at almost 500 episodes now.”
However, in some cases, the grand scale of the set is what makes a game show unique. This is where creating a centralized production hub can be particularly useful to help with the costs, Neumann says. “If the set is something that you’re saying to the clients is ‘a must, you have to do it big,’ you should provide a hub. But if you allow your broadcasters to scale it up or down according to their needs, then the hub is less necessary.” Armoza Formats had a hub in Belgium for Still Standing that served as the home for the Belgian version as well as a French version and a pilot for Africa.
Neumann says that a big part of the attraction with game shows is that these series have the potential to become long-running hits. “Especially in these days of fragmentation, broadcasters are looking for loyalty,” he says. “If you can get a franchise that works for a long time, rather than just a one-off, you can achieve a strong following and viewer loyalty.”
And the longer a show is on the air, the better it can amortize costs. “With a game show, the main cost is the set and the décor; this is an expense that is spent only once,” explains Global Agency’s Pinto. “When you produce more episodes, you will divide the cost into that number, so it will shrink. For a well-run show, as long as it’s a success, the cost keeps getting smaller.”
Along with being a cost-effective proposition, game shows have the ability to create noise for a network and make for watercooler fodder. Pinto recalls how a silly answer on the Turkish version of Keep It or Lose It became a national sensation. “Millions of people watched [the clip] and were laughing at it,” he says. “You’re able to get these viral moments, and it really helps the show to be watched by more people.”
“For the big prime-time shows, they can be something that defines a channel or a brand,” adds Rabbit’s Tuovinen. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in Finland was the highest-rated show of all time on Nelonen, which is the second-biggest commercial channel in the country. It’s the most important show that they produce on the whole channel. Shows like that can definitely take your channel to new heights.”
To have that strong hook, though, a game show needs a special element to stand out from the competition, he says. “Whether it’s a very strong visual component or a really, really big cash prize, you need something that will grab people’s attention. In the last couple of years, we’ve been seeing more shows with an interactive element.” Tuovinen believes the marketplace will be seeing more and more of that in the future.
“There have been several attempts at interactive game shows that have reached various levels of success,” he says. “I applaud those; they’re not easy to make. The technology doesn’t always catch up with the production, but it’s only a matter of time before one of the interactive formats really breaks through.”
In Tuovinen’s opinion, “interactivity is great, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. Sometimes part of the fun of watching a game show is shouting at the screen and thinking that you know the answers, instead of actually having to play the game,” he says. “Especially in shows where the tempo is very fast, it can be stressful for a viewer to try to play along or to answer the questions at the same time as the contestants in the studio. In some cases, they just prefer to enjoy the viewing experience. Part of the fun of watching a game show is to learn something by having other people answer the questions.”
Armoza Formats’ Neumann believes that the next wave of game shows will allow the audience to feel like they can change the course of the show while it’s still airing. “It’s not just about voting or playing along; I’m talking about real interactivity,” he says. “This is a huge challenge for creatives. Game shows are highly edited. It’s very hard to do them live, but it’s not impossible and is very rewarding when it’s done right.”
The People’s Choice, part of the Armoza Formats catalog, provides an opportunity for the viewers watching at home to insert their points of view and their answers live while the game is being played, and this determines the trajectory of the episode itself. “We’ll begin to see this type of engagement more often, and it will also be taken even further in the future,” Neumann says.
He also sees prospects for OTT and digital players to up their game when it comes to these types of shows. “At the moment, it’s not their first choice of content, but it can work,” says Neumann. “When the content is compelling enough, the platforms will want it. Just like with traditional broadcasters, the benefits of game shows [for OTT platforms] are the same: the cost-effectiveness and the potential for many episodes—it’s a win-win situation. You can get great production value and great audience loyalty, all for a reasonable expense.”
Pictured: Global Agency’s In and Out.