Banijay and Endemol Shine Group were both powerhouses in the format business before combining their prowess, creating what is now a mega-catalog full of mega-brands. The portfolio is home to such behemoth formats as Survivor, Big Brother and MasterChef, long-running hits that continue to see more commissions and recommissions being added to their roster each year. Lucas Green, global head of content operations at Banijay, talks to TV Formats Weekly about some of the carefully executed tweaks and shared best practices that go into keeping these formats at peak performance.
TV FORMATS: What’s your view of the mega-formats in prime time?
GREEN: They are not just remaining strong; they are in the middle of a new boom. There are a couple of reasons for that. We’ve been through an absolutely unique period, where there have been two global phenomena. One is the pandemic, and the other is the rise of streaming platforms. While these mega-formats are not yet appearing on streaming platforms, I think that they will start to emerge on them; we’re seeing early signs of it. Those two factors, the pandemic and the rise of the streamers, have created an environment where the linear broadcasters and schedulers are under pressure to deliver big hits. People are staying at home, watching more TV and signing up for more streaming subscriptions, and the broadcasters, linear and nonlinear, have been facing financial pressures due to the drop in advertising revenue, so they need to deliver big hits. If they’re going to look very carefully at where they spend their budgets, they want to make sure that they have a couple of really big mega-brands that they can get behind, market and support in their schedules and that they can have lots of complementary programming around.
If you’ve got something like Survivor, you can absolutely have lots of other content around it. You can talk about it in your chat shows and morning shows; it has more than just the benefit of the show itself in that wrap-around programming.
These big brands are a very good bet. You can’t un-invent a good idea. We know that once you’ve cracked a mega-format and viewers love it, it becomes a staple part of their loyal TV following. Broadcasters want more of it. If it works, and if it delivers and rates, they want more of the same.
The context of the last 18 months has created this very fertile environment for the mega-brands to flourish and become a really important bedrock in schedules.
TV FORMATS: Tell us about some of the mega-formats that have had a period of rest and returned—perhaps even on a different network.
GREEN: Banijay is an IP business; we believe in great IP, and we believe in great producers and on-screen talent. The nature of the IP business is that these are brands that we own and control. It’s quite common that they might change homes over the years. Both Temptation Island and Big Brother are celebrating their 20th years—that’s a long time. Broadcasters change, their budgets change, their personnel changes, tastes change and target markets can change. There are quite a few that have changed homes successfully.
One good example of a show being rested and coming back and being super successful again is Big Brother in Holland, where it all began. Big Brother was off the air for a few years, came back and had an absolutely terrific return. It was recommissioned.
Survivor has had a very successful reboot in Mexico, and it’s come back in Brazil as well. There are markets where it had been before, had a break and has come back very successfully.
With Temptation Island, the difference between Temptation Island on USA Network and the original FOX version is that they are tonally very different. If you look at what Temptation Island used to look like in its original life and what it looks like in the 2.0 version, the tone of it is much more like a dating/relationship show. It’s fair to say that if your friend had told you that they were going on Temptation Island 20 years ago, you might ask them whether they really think that’s a good idea [laughs]. The show was all about temptation. But now, actually, it’s seen as a good thing to go on Temptation Island. If your relationship is at a crossroads, it’s a good thing to go on because you’re able to really get to the bottom of what your relationship means to you. We’ve got amazing testimony from people who have been on Temptation Island and say it’s the best thing they ever did for their relationship.
Viewers want a more sophisticated tone; they don’t just want trash and conflict and lust. They want more nuanced storylines. They’ve seen lots of reality shows over the years, and now they expect more layers. Tonally, Temptation Island has really grown up as it’s gotten older. The way we refreshed Temptation Island was not to change the core premise of the show and play around with the cast or by bringing in very different structures; it was the tone, attitude and language. The brand feels more grown-up, sophisticated and less on-the-nose and brutal. Viewers really responded to that, and that’s why it’s as successful as it has ever been.
TV FORMATS: Walk us through some of the refreshes or tweaks other Banijay mega-formats have undergone over the years.
GREEN: Australia is a great territory for these big formats to be reimagined. MasterChef, when it first began many years ago in the U.K., was a very different show to what it has now become. That’s largely thanks to the way that the Australians reimagined it as a big prime-time competitive show rather than just a cooking show.
Last year, Australia prerecorded Big Brother. We had a lot of long conversations internally debating whether Big Brother could or should be made as a prerecorded show; the voting and the live mechanic were so integral to its success when it first launched. But, partly to make it in a different way, we decided to make it pre-recorded, and what it allowed was better storytelling, better craft in the edit, the ability to use the music more effectively, to put more postproduction into the show. It didn’t suffer from losing that live fast-turnaround and interactive viewer vote. It still worked; the housemates voted each other out. The format absolutely stood up to that quite major change in the production execution, and it was very successful. It looked very slick and glossy and enabled the client to feel that they were developing the format and not just resting on their laurels and allowing it to sit still. It created a really good reason to bring it back in that different form.
Also [revamped] in Australia, Beauty and the Geek is a very well-established format that had traveled well before. It had been off-air for a few years and came back. It’s aimed at a fairly young audience, 16 to 24, 16 to 34 predominantly. That share of the audience wasn’t really familiar with Beauty and the Geek; their moms and dads and older generation may know and love it from the first time around, so right there you’ve got an audience to tap into, but you’ve also got a younger audience, which most broadcasters crave, who weren’t familiar with it. It was a brand-new show to them and exciting. The way that we refreshed Beauty and the Geek is not by doing anything terribly drastic to the show, not completely reinventing the core format, but the casting was really important. What do modern geeks and modern beauties embody and represent today? It’s quite a different answer than you might have given when the format first launched. The world is a fast-changing place, for the better in many ways. We now have a much more diverse cast. We’ve been able to play with the show by doing very modern casting, but it’s ultimately still a very simple premise at the heart of it, which is: can opposites attract? Off the back of that, it has generated interest all around the world to do reboots in that model.
TV FORMATS: Are knowledge and best practices shared between producers of various local versions?
GREEN: We try to make it look easy, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that longevity.
I jointly look after the department at Banijay called Creative Networks. We are an international resource at the heart of the company that supports the creativity and production of all of those mega-brands around the world. We support the local productions, but we also make sure that those formats are protected in terms of their high quality and execution. We will insist upon approval for any changes to the format to make sure that local versions don’t potentially damage the brand with under-par production values. We have in-house consultants who are very experienced executive producers and know these shows and these genres very well; they are the guardians of these formats and make sure that they are produced to the high standard. We work very closely with our clients to make sure they are happy with those productions. We adapt to the changes needed, and we keep them fresh. We are creative not just in the new shows that we’re developing, but in the shows that we already produce to make sure that there are twists and turns.
In a show like Survivor, there are always interesting new ways that we’re casting, whether it’s bringing back previous favorite contestants or theming. It’s about the high-quality production and trying to be creative with the seasons to make them feel fresh to the viewers so that they never become pedestrian.
TV FORMATS: What elements help to ensure a format’s longevity?
GREEN: The way that we champion longevity is that at their heart, these shows have very simple, clear premises. They aren’t overly complicated, and you don’t keep it fresh by adding lots of complicated mechanics. Survivor is “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast”—it is about who the last one will be. It’s clearly a strategy game with loads of drama, and it’s very well cast. Big Brother is the ultimate reality show; it’s a popularity contest. Who is the most popular housemate? MasterChef is one of our biggest and best, and the very simple premise is, it’s really good cooking. It’s high-quality food, and it has a lot of filmic qualities; it’s beautifully made and at the heart of it are great chefs.
We instill those core values in the shows and make sure the expertise is transferred from one adaptation to the other so that the lessons we’re learning from every single production are shared. We bring together our global community of producers on a regular basis to swap lessons and learnings from each production so that if, say, the Italian producers of Big Brother came across a good idea or technique to produce the show, the very next production of Big Brother, wherever in the world it is, can benefit from that.
TV FORMATS: Do you foresee broadcasters continuing to stick with and refresh mega-brands or retiring some to make way for brand-new concepts?
GREEN: While they’re successful, there’s no reason why [broadcasters] would want to rest them. It’s up to us to keep the quality high. The viewers have shown that they like them and will keep coming to them, so I don’t think you rest a show while it’s still doing well and the ratings are on the rise.
Looking into the future, the landscape is changing. There is a real battle going on between streaming platforms for viewers, subscribers and top-quality content. I think what we will see now is them start to enter the market and identify some of these mega-brands as a great way to launch their service in a new territory, coming with a mega-format to launch a mega-platform. Then, straight out of the block, you’ve got a show that people are familiar with, and even better, you know works.
Those won’t live with a platform globally; they’ll be deals done on a country-by-country basis. There will be more clients talking about these shows, which is good news for us as producers of them and good news for viewers because they get more choice and more of the big shows and a rich selection of brilliant series to watch.