BBC Studios Sees the Strength in Simplicity

Andre Renaud, senior VP of global format sales at BBC Studios, talks to TV Formats about the global potential found in simple concepts and the power of a newly connected industry.

No matter the global goings-on—from politics to pandemics—the titles with international appeal that can find captive audiences in whichever market they are adapted for often have one key thing in common: simplicity.“The mantra of ‘a simple idea works everywhere’ really does still hold true,”  says Andre Renaud, senior VP of global format sales at BBC Studios. Referencing such established format hits as The Great Bake Off and Dancing with the Stars, Renaud adds, “For unscripted, a strong seed of an idea, rooted in one simple concept or hook is often the winner.” And for scripted formats such as the BAFTA Award-winning Doctor Foster, he notes that “the stories need to be character-centered. The root essence of these people must be true and real; and this is true for drama or comedy. You need to be able to believe that the choices those characters are making in their universe are real and tangible.”

In the market today, commissioners’ budgets need to be stretched even further than usual, leading to a corresponding reluctance for risk-taking and a priority placed on safety. Formats, as Renaud points out, have helped meet the needs of the current moment. “The usual messages of a format being a good way for commissioners to bring something to viewers that is localized without needing to make the same spend on development is even more true this year,” he explains. “It’s been great to see so many ideas finding life from one country to the next.”

At the beginning of COVID-19’s global spread, there was a rush for “COVID-proof” and “COVID-friendly” programming. “What it translated to in the early months of the year in practical terms was content that didn’t require an audience, shows that had closed or near-closed sets and shows with episode volume to quickly fill schedule gaps,” says Renaud. Quiz shows, game shows and panel shows were all easily adaptable to fit that bill. Now, the need has evolved and grown, with the desire to up the ante to entertain on a grander scale. “The appetite now is for shows that are also family-friendly, warm, escapist and feel good. We’ve seen each of these trends in our licensing, too, whether through the revivals of Weakest Link in the U.S., Russia and Greece, sales of A Question of Sport in Slovakia, and even the recent announcement of our 60th version of Dancing with the Stars to Mongolia.”

In addition to having Jane Lynch as host, the revival of Weakest Link in the U.S. on NBC “has some nice new updates to keep it fresh for 2020, but definitely still has the same gameplay and strategy and, of course, that famous catchphrase ‘You Are the Weakest Link. Goodbye!’” says Renaud.

Other standouts on BBC Studios’ slate are Our DNA Journey, which sees two celebrities team up and explore each other’s family history, and Fact or Fake, a format from Austrian producers Sand Rats that challenges a panel of three comedians to spot fake viral videos.

Amid the many challenges of the pandemic, Renaud has seen resilience across the industry as it has risen to meet the needs of the time. “From reduced crews to separated crews, to bigger spaces to shoot, outdoor spaces and beyond, there has been a huge amount of production innovation. It’s really been great to see how producers have been able to adapt to deliver shows for viewers in an unusual period.” Renaud adds, “There has been a huge amount of development in lockdown—you can’t keep a creative producer down.”

Renaud believes that the near future will see the emergence of a great new idea or genre as a result of the shifts demanded by the unusual circumstances of 2020. “I expect we will see this deliver over the next two years as commissioners look to both innovate and stand out,” he explains. “There will remain scope for taking risks and commissioners will be keen to do just that as soon as they can.” Renaud has also found that streamers seem to have helped keep creativity moving forward in the industry, opening up “local linear broadcasters to ideas they may not have considered previously as they look to viewer retention.”

For Renaud and BBC Studios, a main takeaway from the last several months has been their good fortune in working with an invaluable collection of producers, broadcasters, commissioners and platforms. “One of the most important things for us this year has been to remain flexible and to find ways to support our partners in what has been no doubt a strange year,” says Renaud. “I’ve been really inspired by how we, as an industry, have worked closely to share ideas and ways of working in order to adapt to changing situations. I really hope this will continue and want to do my part to stay connected with this as we move into 2021.”