Nick Smith, executive VP of formats at All3Media International, shares his thoughts on the state of the non-scripted entertainment format market today.
From enduring classics to breakout new concepts like the buzzy The Unknown, unveiled at MIPCOM, All3Media International has built up an enviable format catalog to meet the needs of a diverse range of buyers across the globe. As executive VP of formats at the company, Nick Smith is ensuring the lineup—sourced from sister companies within the All3Media family and independents—taps into trends in the zeitgeist and can be adapted for the requirements of linear and streaming platforms alike.
TV FORMATS: The formats business was hard hit at the start of Covid. How have you seen the sector bounce back since then?
SMITH: We have a wide and varied catalog, so thankfully, we weren’t too negatively affected by Covid. Although we had formats that couldn’t be produced, we had several formats that were able to continue production and even gain new commissions during the peak of the pandemic, such as Gogglebox and The Cube. The sector has more than bounced back. For example, Race Across the World, which couldn’t be produced in 2020-21, now has three versions in production. There are several new formats buyers in the market; we have licensed formats to global and local SVOD platforms this year such as discovery+, HBO Max, Streamz and Voyo. Our formats business has surpassed where we were before the pandemic.
TV FORMATS: What genres are you seeing broadcasters most interested in now?
SMITH: We are seeing a huge amount of interest in a new genre that I’m coining as “intelligent reality.” By this, I mean reality shows you don’t need to feel embarrassed to admit watching—they have depth and are not brain-numbing while still providing the entertainment we expect from reality shows. The first of our intelligent reality shows is idtv’s The Traitors, which launched in the Netherlands in 2021, and we licensed it to 11 territories within 11 months. We [launched] a new intelligent reality show, also from idtv, The Unknown, at MIPCOM.
TV FORMATS: Are the streamers looking for different kinds of brands compared to linear broadcasters?
SMITH: Streamers are looking for titles that stand out from the crowd. For example, we have Naked Attraction licensed to SVOD platforms in various territories for numerous seasons. Streamers are also open to shows that are more niche than linear broadcasters would go to—they don’t necessarily have to attract a huge audience but [instead] serve neglected groups and convince them to subscribe to their platform.
TV FORMATS: How are you finding breakout new ideas? Are there specific territories you’re looking at?
SMITH: Good ideas can come from anywhere. However, we’re more likely to see formats travel from territories with broadcasters willing to take risks and back original ideas. The Dutch have been among the leading format creators for many years, but I’d tip their neighbor Belgium as a territory to watch. The production values are high, as is the creativity, and the broadcasters back local producers. This led All3Media to launch a production company in the country last year. We’re showcasing All3Media Belgium’s series of the BBC Three pilot Don’t Scream, created by Maverick Television, which has taken the format to the next level. I’m also hugely excited about a high-tech family entertainment format that we have in advanced development in Belgium that I’m sure will have buyers hooked as soon as we can share.
TV FORMATS: What opportunities do you see for format co-development across markets?
SMITH: There are broadcasters and producers all around the world who are open to co-development; we are open to this too. However, before entering a co-development deal, we must consider what both parties are hoping to gain from working together. What does the other party bring to the table that we don’t have within our own team?
TV FORMATS: How is the demand for paper formats? How important is having a pilot or sizzle?
SMITH: Selling paper formats is hard and time-consuming. As a distributor, this is not an area we concentrate on. We have a big format catalog and are constantly agreeing on licenses with broadcasters all over the world. They come to us for ideas that have already been successfully executed and have a track record. Producers are best placed to sell paper formats; they generally concentrate on selling to only one territory and have a deeper relationship with local broadcasters. They will also be the ones that will produce the format and therefore are best placed to convince a broadcaster of its merits. We’re always keen to talk to producers once they have secured a commission.
TV FORMATS: The megabrands are still faring well. Does that make introducing new concepts harder?
SMITH: Successful shows have always tended to be recommissioned and often for longer series, making fewer slots available for new concepts. However, we have more channels than ever before commissioning local content, not to mention the SVOD platforms that are all searching for their own format hits. Therefore, I don’t think it is harder to get a commission; however, with so much choice for viewers, it is much harder to get formats to cut through.
TV FORMATS: How risk-averse are broadcasters amid this challenging economic climate?
SMITH: There is certainly a trend toward reboots, which shows broadcasters taking less risk. This is a consequence of how crowded the market is, and known IP is more likely to get noticed. It means format creators have to be smart, whether that means partnering with owners of IP from other spheres to create a TV format or finding ingenious ways to promote new shows. For example, in Belgium, we have closed a deal with a company that operates virtual reality venues to create a game based on the celebrity horror format Don’t Scream. They are promoting the game and the TV series, which is attractive to the commissioner.
TV FORMATS: What innovations in the format space do you have your eye on?
SMITH: We have developed a format that utilizes some amazing AI technology from Korea and are super excited to launch this on the international market in due course.