Better Together

Several leading producers and distributors talk about melding traditional format genres together to appeal to wider audiences and adjust to broadcasters’ varying needs.

Many format genres shine bright on their own. The boom in dating and competition shows is a testament to this. One can harness their popularity and power by mixing them together, melding their best, most recognizable elements to create a hybrid that is even stronger.

These types of hybrid formats perform relatively well right off the bat. Using “recognized format brands or zeitgeist genres really helps attract an audience quickly and means the programming itself doesn’t need a lot of explanation as to what is happening,” says Mike Beale, managing director of global creative and production support at ITV Studios. “In the competition for eyeballs, this helps a lot.”

Since they feature elements of already-popular genres, they “offer a different take on a format that is trusted and familiar,” notes Tim Gerhartz, managing director of Red Arrow Studios International. “They give viewers something different without completely pushing them out of their comfort zones.”

Many of the most successful hybrids feature some kind of mix that involves games or competitions. “Game is at the core of [many] hybrid formats because it allows the audience to play along,” explains Sophie Ferron, co-principal and president of GRB Media Ranch. “Competition is an important element that drives the format forward and allows for the other genre elements to intertwine seamlessly. No matter what the other genres are, games/competitions allow for clear format beats.”

Red Arrow Studios International’s Claim to Fame combines a celebrity reality show with mystery and competition, as 12 ordinary people with famous relatives live in a house together and try to keep their identities secret while collecting clues about each other in order to discover who their rivals’ relatives are.

“The cat-and-mouse nature of the format, coupled with the chance to see the more private side of celebrity, really struck a chord with audiences,” Gerhartz says.

The ITV Studios and GRB Media Ranch slates boast several hybrids with competitive elements, as well. ITV Studios’ A Party to Die For sees celebrities hunt for evidence to win the title of best detective, while GRB Media Ranch’s Don’t Laugh mixes elements of comedy and competition by pitting comedians against each other in a challenge to make each other laugh.

Aside from game shows, “most entertainment subgenres work well with dating formats,” Gerhartz notes, pointing to Stranded on Honeymoon Island as a prime example. He says the format “is the next logical step in the dating reality genre because it brings together two reality subgenres—dating and adventure—in a completely unique way.”

Hybrid formats allow producers and broadcasters to capitalize on the popularity of crowded genres while still offering something new. There are lots of dating shows on offer, as well as plenty of adventure shows, Gerhartz points out. There are even a few adventure shows where people team up as couples, but the purpose is usually to win cash.

Stranded on Honeymoon Island combines the two to nab fans of both genres while still providing something they haven’t seen before. In the format, “the couples are completely isolated with few resources and only each other for support and company for three weeks,” he explains. “When things get difficult, which they always do, there is nowhere to go—and no one else to turn to but each other. So, they have to figure things out together in a mutually dependent and very intimate way. They find out pretty quickly if they are compatible. It’s a fast-track relationship experience because the participants go through something that usually takes years in just three weeks.”

ITV Studios’ Love Island Games combines the best of both worlds: dating and competition. It also benefits from the recognizability of a hit brand, as it sees previous contestants of Love Island reunite to compete in a variety of couples and team challenges.

Though game shows and dating formats are ripe for hybridizing with other genres, really any of them could be mashed together. They’ll find success “if the mix of genres serves the ultimate gameplay and story,” Ferron says. “The demand is driven by the desire for new and exciting formats in which audiences can engage. The key is playability, relatability and authenticity.”

Since they combine so many popular elements from genres that audiences know and love, these formats often land themselves right in a prime-time slot. They’re versatile enough, though, that they can be tweaked to fit broadcasters’ varying needs. They “tend to air most frequently in prime time or access prime time,” Gerhartz says, but “they can be weekly or daily. Portuguese broadcaster SIC successfully aired the first season of Stranded on Honeymoon Island as a daily strip, for example.”

Ferron concurs, noting that hybrid formats fit prime time very well, but GRB Media Ranch still creates daily strip variations for the pitching process, increasing their appeal for any potential broadcasters in any territory.

That being said, “realistically, they are in the prime-time slots or [on] platforms to appeal to the widest audience they can,” ITV Studios’ Beale says.

This type of formatting helps on numerous other levels, as well, “as it speeds up the development process, as you are generally working in a set of guardrails,” Beale explains. “It also hopefully speeds up commissioning decision-making, as part of the idea is instantly relatable. Hopefully, it makes the production process easier, too, as parts of the show are well-known.”

And, of course, since the audience is already familiar with the genres and what the format will likely entail, it shortens the marketing strategy as well, Beale says.

The main beauty of hybrid formats is that they are so malleable and can be adjusted for different territories’ and broadcasters’ needs—not just in terms of scheduling but regarding the actual elements of the shows. “Formats that incorporate elements of various genres provide the opportunity for broadcasters to experiment while also ensuring that the backbone of the format is tried and true,” says Ferron.

“Where one [broadcaster] wants something game-heavy, the other may want something else, like variety or reality,” she continues. “We have set parameters that we can tweak and adjust to put more focus on different parts of the format without deviating too much and keeping it recognizable while also being specific and local. Ultimately, they provide a flexibility that other traditional formats may not be able to do.”