Cecile Frot-Coutaz

This interview originally appeared in the MIPTV 2015 issues of World Screen and TV Europe.

As one of the world’s largest creators, producers and distributors of television brands, FremantleMedia has provided broadcasters with a wide range of formats, from the hits Idols, Got Talent and The X Factor to the classics Family Feud and The Price is Right and numerous genres in between. In addition, FremantleMedia International (FMI) distributes a varied catalogue of more than 20,000 hours of content to some 200 territories. CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz talks about the high demand for drama, trends in the formats business and the company’s growing children’s programming slate.

WS: With the increase in the popularity of drama, how is FremantleMedia satisfying demand, both with finished product and with scripted formats?
FROT-COUTAZ: Building a strong prime-time scripted business is a key focus for us. We’ve made great strides in this area in the last few years. We have a really strong team in place, including Craig Cegielski and Stefanie Berk, who head up our U.S. drama scripted business; Nico Hofmann at UFA Fiction; Jo Porter at FremantleMedia Australia; Paul Marquess from Newman Street in the U.K.; Willem Zijlstra from FourOne.Media in Holland; and Sarah Doole, our director of global drama. Kate Harwood joined us last year from the BBC to lead the newly revived Euston Films in the U.K.

We are investing in acquisitions and partnerships that complement our existing drama portfolio. For example, we acquired Miso Film, a Scandinavian drama production company, which has delivered Dicte and Acquitted into the FMI catalogue. We recently announced that we’ve taken a 25-percent stake in Corona TV, a new indie from filmmakers Richard Johns and Rupert Jermyn who want to create TV drama with a cinematic feel. We also continue to work with leading third-party talent, including Paul Abbott of AbbottVision, producers of No Offence; Roughcut TV, which delivered Cuckoo; and MTV, from which we acquired the rights to Eye Candy. We are making the most out of the FremantleMedia global drama network. A great example of this is our success with Wentworth both as a finished tape, selling to 82 territories, and as a format with versions in Holland, produced by FourOne.Media, and in Germany, produced by UFA Serial Drama.

There is huge buzz around Deutschland 83, from UFA Fiction, following the world premiere at Berlinale. FMI has already secured a deal with SundanceTV in the U.S. and sales to Scandinavia, and there’s more in the pipeline.

Our North American team has co-produced the U.S. version of The Returned with A&E, executive produced by Carlton Cuse, which [premiered] in March. In the U.K., Suspects has done well for Channel 5. The show increased the average audience for the time slot by 23 percent, and achieved critical acclaim. It has also gone on to sell into Australia and will air on Seven Network.

WS: What trends are you seeing in the format business?
FROT-COUTAZ: Formats are no longer the exclusive domain of the U.S., the U.K. or even the Netherlands. Increasingly we are seeing formats created all over the globe, including in Turkey, Ireland, Israel and Sweden.

Talent shows such as Got Talent, The X Factor and The Voice continue to remain popular and are increasingly using apps and interactive technology. We’ve had huge success in the U.K. with the X Factor app, which featured in-app free voting for the first time. It was downloaded more than 2.4 million times during the last series alone, up more than 56 percent from last year. We’ve also recently done a deal with Applicaster for the “companion experience” app for our show Master Athletes, which we will be offering to our clients at this year’s MIPTV.

Cooking shows remain very on-trend. Bake Off continues to be popular, and we are seeing a real appetite for our cookery game show My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours with recent sales in Argentina, Turkey, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania.

Fixed rig is proving popular following the success of shows such as Educating Yorkshire, One Born Every Minute, Gogglebox and 24 Hours in A&E. Audiences are also looking for authenticity in factual programming, with shows such as The Island with Bear Grylls performing well.

WS: How do the FremantleMedia production teams spot locally produced shows that have the potential to work in other countries? What do they look for?
FROT-COUTAZ: We have the advantage of combining a small, centralized resource with a global view, together with teams in the local market. This means that teams on the ground can spot opportunities early, as they understand the local market and build local relationships. The central teams then share this information around our global production network to determine possible interest.

WS: How is FremantleMedia Kids & Family Entertainment doing?
FROT-COUTAZ: Our kids’ business is still relatively new. It launched in October 2009 but is doing well. Our focus is on building global franchises with strong ratings and great consumer products, particularly in the preschool category.

This year we are focusing on the launch of a new version of the British classic Danger Mouse as part of our BBC co-production agreement, with a sensational cast of voice talent including Alexander Armstrong and Stephen Fry. Leveraging the huge wave of interest in Danger Mouse, we are also continuing consumer-products exploitation of the classic series.

Tree Fu Tom has now been broadcast in more than 123 territories and, with a recently appointed new toy partner, we will be rolling out product in key markets across the globe. Kate & Mim-Mim has been sold to 11 new markets in 2014 across North America, Europe and Asia. The series has ranked as the number one show in its time slot on every platform it has launched on to date.

WS: Is the industry moving increasingly to niche audiences and passionate communities of viewers? How does a company like FremantleMedia serve them?
FROT-COUTAZ: Yes, and scale is vital in making digital a viable business. We need to reach a bigger global audience and we will do that by increasing our own digital footprint, acquiring networks, such as Divimove, working with the networks within the RTL Group, like StyleHaul and BroadbandTV, and with key external partners like VICE Media.

WS: How do you continue to serve broadcasters that need mass-appeal programming?
FROT-COUTAZ: Mass-appeal programming will remain our core business, but as eyeballs are moving to digital, ad revenue will follow and we must be in both places. Therefore, we will continue to invest in both our core business and digital through investment in development, partnerships and acquisitions where it makes commercial sense and complements our existing portfolio of content and creative talent.

WS: What kind of born-digital content are you interested in?
FROT-COUTAZ: We are building relationships with a new generation of online talent, both on-screen and behind the scenes, through our strategic partnerships. We’re inspired by new talent, relevance, tone, authenticity and more. It’s a really exciting place to be.

We’ve already had success producing original digital content within food (Munchies, with VICE Media), sport (FullTimeDEVILS) and general entertainment (The Crew, for StyleHaul). Our aim now is to create new brands that will have the potential to cross over from one media/platform to another but that are popular in their own right.

WS: How can this content migrate to more traditional outlets?
FROT-COUTAZ: We are already seeing this happen. IP and talent originating in digital has already started moving to more traditional platforms: for example, the success Penguin Random House had with Zoella, who is one of StyleHaul’s biggest YouTube stars.

Increasingly, networks are optioning IP and hiring talent from online. Examples of this are E! creating a talk show for YouTuber Grace Helbig, or HBO optioning a pilot from Issa Rae, who created the hugely popular online series Awkward Black Girl.

WS: What other opportunities are you seeing in the digital world?
FROT-COUTAZ: On-demand platforms are growing, and there are more commissioning opportunities in this space. We always look for opportunities to mine our archive in new ways. For example, our U.S. digital studio Tiny Riot! has recently launched a YouTube channel called Buzzr which features the hottest YouTube stars re-creating some of our classic game shows. It’s a great way of extending our back catalogue to new platforms and new audiences.

WS: What developments are you seeing in branded entertainment?
FROT-COUTAZ: Brands are increasingly looking to production companies for their expertise in creating longer-form storytelling. For instance, we worked with TBWA in Finland to create a 10×30-minute comedy called Buy This!, based in a fictitious ad agency in Helsinki. The clients in the show are real brands and our team in Finland worked collaboratively with TBWA to create the show’s scripts by using real briefs from participating brands. TBWA went on to develop real TV ad campaigns for the brands, which launched in the real world the week after each respective episode had aired. The show has already won numerous advertising industry awards, and we’re rolling out the format to other territories with TBWA this year.

We are doing more integrated campaigns with brands across our TV shows that could include any or all of: sponsorship, product placement, social media and second-screen integrations, experiential programs and more. Brands want their products to be part of great stories, and we’re able to integrate them into what we already create.

WS: What growth areas do you see in the next 12 to 24 months?
FROT-COUTAZ: We’ll see a rise in original content being commissioned by on-demand platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. And, of course, we’ll see digital continue to grow. By that I mean a rise in original digital content being produced for online first, and the continued rise of online talent. There will be more examples of digital IP and talent moving across platforms, and indeed great stories and talent will become increasingly platform agnostic. The next 12 to 24 months will see the industry addressing the challenge of finding a longer-term viable economic model for digital.