It certainly wasn’t an easy year for the formats business as COVID-19 put numerous productions on hold. Production on Big Brother Canada, for example, had to be discontinued in March, ITV shifted Love Island to 2021, and CBS had to pull Survivor from its fall schedule. But this business, known for its creativity and rapid problem-solving, found ways to thrive. MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show was filmed remotely. FOX picked up the Gogglebox format with a twist, launching Celebrity Watch Party in May. Game and studio show producers across the globe were able to devise standards to get a slew of formats back into production safely. Even those in the dating and reality space were able to adapt to the times; Lifetime greenlit a new Married at First Sight spin-off, Married at First Sight: Couples’ Cam, a self-shot series from Kinetic Content featuring couples from the show’s last ten seasons.
That ingenuity has the format business starting 2021 on firmer footing, especially as the delays still plaguing major drama-producing markets have left prime-time slots on broadcasters in dire need of compelling content. Indeed, data from Ampere Analysis in the fall of last year found that Western European commissioners were driving a new boom in format production. European format commissioning activity reached a high in July, with 30 unscripted remakes announced. From September 2019 to September 2020, Western European commissioners ordered 194 new shows based on formats.
So what’s in demand? These days, shows that can be quickly shot with social-distancing measures in place are hot commodities, with producers spending much of last year either retooling existing formats for the COVID-19 age or devising new ones that would fit with current requirements. The pandemic hasn’t changed the long-running trends in the business, namely the continued popularity of game shows, dating formats and competition series. Korea remains a market to watch as The Masked Singer continued its global march (with a new deal in Ukraine, sustained ratings and a new U.S. spin-off, The Masked Dancer). Last year also saw the arrival of the U.S. version of I Can See Your Voice, while TBS ordered Celebrity Show-Off, a talent competition series based on the popular Korean show My Little Television.
With markets canceled, it wasn’t the best year for unveiling new concepts, but several did make waves in 2020, among them Red Arrow Studios International’s Beat the Channel and Fremantle’s Game of Talents. Meanwhile, long-running legacy brands had a banner year, with the likes of Wife Swap, Power Couple, 10 Years Younger, MasterChef and many others scoring renewals. TVI inked a deal to bring Big Brother back to Portugal after a 14-year hiatus, with the Banijay format also returning to the Netherlands. TBS said it would reimagine Wipeout (the future of that reboot is unclear following the death of a contestant in November). Survivor was ordered in Mexico. NBC commissioned a new version of the BBC Studios format Weakest Link with Jane Lynch as host and executive producer. BBC Studios licensed the Dancing with the Stars format into Mongolia, making it the 60th territory to adapt the hit entertainment series. The talent reality show Popstars, reimagined for 2021, is set to return to TVNZ 2 in partnership with Screentime New Zealand and Warner Music New Zealand. FOX will premiere a new take on the musical game show Name That Tune, with Jane Krakowski tapped to host and Randy Jackson on board as bandleader.
It was also a busy year for the scripted formats business, seemingly everywhere. In Latin America, A+E Networks secured its first scripted format sale in the region with UnREAL in Brazil. In the U.S., FOX ordered a pilot for the Argentine series La chica que limpia (The Cleaning Lady); NBC gave the green light to Someone Out There, an adaptation of Little Coincidences (Pequeñas Coincidencias) and put The A Word into development; and CBS put a remake of Danni Lowinski into development with Jennie Snyder Urman. In Europe, notable deals included The A Word heading to the Netherlands, and Elephant adapting Marcella for TF1. Asia was particularly fertile ground, as the Filipino version of Descendants of the Sun premiered on GMA, ANTV signed up for an Indonesian version of Ruby Ring, BBC Studios and Tokai Television Broadcasting Co. inked a format deal for the psychological drama miniseries Thirteen, JTBC opted for a local edition of Undercover, and Netflix announced a Korean adaptation of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist).
Meanwhile, the frenetic pace of M&A activity seen in the formats business in years past was notably absent in 2020. Banijay finally closed its takeover of Endemol Shine Group. Elsewhere, Fremantle bought 100 percent of Naked Television and appointed founder Simon Andreae as CEO for its U.K. business; Simon Cowell acquired Sony Music Entertainment’s stake in their global joint-venture talent and production company, which owns the Got Talent and The X Factor formats; and Plimsoll Productions acquired Andrea Jackson’s distribution outfit Magnify Media, after having taken a minority stake in the company in 2016.