Brilliant Adaptations

Scripted and unscripted formats continue to be very popular in Latin America, and leading media companies look to continue innovating their offerings for a diverse and demanding audience.

From thrilling telenovelas to captivating reality shows, Latin America offers a wide range of television content for all tastes. But behind the glamour and drama lies a fascinating world of format adaptations, where international entertainment concepts are reinvented for the local audience.

Amid a saturated television market, rising production costs, reduced budgets and an endless array of platforms emerging every day, leading media companies seek to develop efficient strategies that intelligently boost their offerings in the region.

“There is a vibrant production and creative market across the entire region,” says André Renaud, senior VP of global format sales at BBC Studios. “We’re delighted that our entertainment series resonate with audiences around the world. From Australia to Argentina, Spain to South Africa, series like Dancing with the Stars have traveled to over 60 territories. The Latin American market continues to be important for us in terms of adaptations.”

Renaud adds: “You can see that if a format works in one country in the region, it has the potential to travel across the continent, like Love Productions’ The Great Bake Off has proven, allowing us to engage and delight audiences in Latin America and support the local creative industry. Formats have always been of interest for the Latin American TV industry, and we hope to continue building on this.”

For Roxanne Pompa, VP of international formats at Paramount Global Content Distribution, establishing solid partnerships is key. “Paramount Global Content Distribution has always been about building our relationships and our brands throughout the region,” she says. “We continue to look to expand the local franchises in the Latin American market.”

“Right now,” Pompa adds, “scripted dramas for Latin America are key. There is an appetite for scripted formats with strong female protagonists, such as Why Women Kill, The Good Wife and The Affair. We are working with exceptional producers that are changing the creative landscape. Overall, our global business with scripted formats has grown exponentially with the addition of more current scripted titles in the catalog. We believe in strong partnerships with local producers, and it is essential for expanding our global footprint, which is evident in our success stories from The Good Wife to Wheel of Fortune.”

Michelle Wasserman, senior VP for Latin America, U.S. Hispanic and Brazil at Banijay Rights, points out that current market trends lean toward successful reality shows and proven formats. “Shiny-floor game shows and talent shows are still relevant, but reality shows have gained prominence,” she says. “Shows like Los 50, Survivor and the return of Gran Hermano are part of this trend.” Wasserman comments that Gran Hermano arrived strongly and “at this point, we can say that it is here to stay, at least for a while.”

“We’ve seen a resurgence of classic formats in LatAm,” comments Yari Torres, VP for Latin America at All3Media International. “I’m looking forward to exploring opportunities for All3Media International’s own legacy formats like Lion TV’s Cash Cab and Studio Lambert’s Undercover Boss in the region.”

Fremantle is renowned for having some of the most popular entertainment formats in the world, from Family Feud and Got Talent to The Price is Right and Idols.

“Countless adaptations of our formats have been successful across the globe and in Latin America,” says Sheila Aguirre, executive VP of co-production and distribution for Latin America at Fremantle International. “Fremantle grew out of the format business. They are our core, which is why we’re known for some of the longest-surviving and most traveled formats in the industry—game shows like Family Feud, The Price is Right, Password; talent shows like Got Talent, Idols, The X Factor; and reality like Farmer Wants a Wife, The Farm and Too Hot To Handle, to name a few.”

Aguirre adds that Fremantle is seeing a growing appetite for formats among traditional broadcasters in Latin America. “Formats offer a unique, low-risk opportunity that other content cannot commit to. Family entertainment viewing is particularly popular, formats like Family Feud, Got Talent and The Price is Right—light entertainment that delivers a human connection and provides a shared viewing experience in real time with the opportunity to play along.”

“We’re also seeing a surge in interest in our scripted formats, which offer a highly adaptable, time and cost-effective way for producers and commissioners to deliver high-quality content across the region,” explains All3Media International’s Torres. “Our scripted format slate is packed with universally appealing, compelling stories from genre-leading producers, like Two Brothers Pictures’ Liar. This title has now been commissioned in over ten territories, including Turkey, Malaysia, Italy and India, and we work closely with local producers on every adaptation to take into account cultural sensibilities like character distinction and local nuances and viewer expectations, like duration.”

It’s no secret that Latin America is a region with a wide range of cultural nuances, and understanding and developing content taking those sensitivities into account is vital for the success of a production in the region.

“It’s crucial for us as a format producer and distributor to be able to work collaboratively with local commissioners and producers to find the nuance of the format that will make it relevant for any local audience,” comments BBC’s Renaud. “A good format will be adaptable, scalable and ideally returnable, and our responsibility is to share the essential elements of the format—and crucially explain why they are essential—and allow our partners to then explore how this can translate into a local discussion.”

On the unscripted formats side, he explains that the process is straightforward and cites The Weakest Link as an example. “The gameplay of The Weakest Link is clear. But especially in scripted format adaptations, this conversation is crucial. Doctor Foster, for example: where she lives, how she interacts with her friends and community is deeply important to the story, and being able to learn from our commissioning and production partners creates a stronger story overall for viewers. Indeed, sometimes being able to celebrate those cultural nuances can enhance and bring out a new perspective for a format, both unscripted and scripted alike.”

“There are many nuances and cultural differences in the various Latin American countries, and we work with our local partners to find the best way to reach the audience in their market,” says Paramount’s Pompa. “We understand how important it is to be a proponent of quality content and make sure that a country/territory is allowed to make cultural changes with respect and integrity.”

For broadcasters to maintain production standards and “deliver a great product, they need to have a partner,” says Wasserman at Banijay Rights. “The old concept of cannibalization is part of the past. It is proven that, through a smart programming strategy, appropriate scheduling, and complementary production, the partnership of different platforms on the same IP adds a lot of value to the product.”

The retention and loyalty from the viewers are also important factors, she adds. “There has been a shift in content consumption habits, where the viewer is no longer passive; they want to interact and be part of it. Exclusivity is no longer the focus, and over 70 percent of the audience has a second device. And half of those people are doing something related to what they’re watching. Here lies the opportunity to keep them engaged through these co-producing partners.”

When a format has a proven track record of success, “most of the battle is won,” says Fremantle’s Aguirre. “If it’s a scripted format, it’s up to the writers and finding the right cast. The golden rule is [to] stay within the spirit of the original story and tap into the core of the characters.”

If it’s related to an unscripted format, like Got Talent, Family Feud or The Price is Right, she mentions the importance of following the bible: “Respect the structure and maintain consistency throughout the production, especially if it is being produced for the first time in the territory. Anything you do to alter or compromise the format is a risk. Broadcasters acquire formats because they already have a performance history, which takes the costly risks out of the equation.”

Renaud from BBC Studios agrees with Wasserman about the importance of having a partner to develop these types of shows. “We are always open to creative ways of working and discussing approaches to markets with commissioners and producers alike as we respond to market requests and needs,” he says.

He mentions the company’s collaboration with Endemol Shine Brasil as an example. “It’s been great to work closely with Endemol Shine Brasil, for example, to bring our formats to Brazilian audiences. Equally, our recent announcement of investment into Brutal Media in Spain not only responds to Spain’s increased appetite for BBC Studios-owned and -distributed content, but also supports Brutal’s ambition to export original creative IP from Spain to the wider international market. Whether it’s directly with commissioners and creatives or through partnerships like with Endemol Shine Brasil, we’re interested in exploring ways of working together with partners around the world.”

Regarding fostering creative collaborations to adapt standout formats to the Latin American market, Pompa at Paramount mentions the game show Hollywood Squares. “The thirst for game shows and nostalgia is there. Our celebrity game show Hollywood Squares is an excellent example. This is the perfect show/platform for licensees to cross-promote on their channel’s programming slate and to use talent they can pull from their novelas, as well as journalists, presenters, comedians, etc.”

She adds: “Reality TV for streaming is continuing to build as they look to reach more subscribers. It is a more cost-efficient option and fans of reality are dedicated! We look for smart, compelling reality that is more feel-good with positive reinforcement.”

While proven successful formats have remained on Latin American screens, the need to refresh them is a key factor contributing to the longevity of these productions.

“We always have plans to innovate and go further,” says Banijay Rights’ Wasserman. “Innovation is not only in every season but also in these live shows, which are a daily challenge. The advantage with these types of shows is that trial and error is at your fingertips. It’s in the same minute. But it’s also true that it can become a double-edged sword.” She mentions Gran Hermano as an example. “It’s a show that is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is stronger than ever. It has grown and matured over the years, adapting to consumption habits and technologies and renewing itself in more than 70 countries where it has been produced. The show has learned from mistakes throughout its more than 400 seasons. Its longevity has made it wiser over the course of more than 55,000 episodes.”

For Renaud at BBC Studios, innovation and success boil down to the strength of the concept itself and its “ability to allow it to be adapted to suit local audiences and tastes.” The company counts local adaptations of Great Bake Off in Mexico and Uruguay, among other territories, and What Not to Wear in Brazil. “Knowing that the U.K. remains the world’s biggest exporter of format ideas means that we continue to be the place that could have the next entertainment hit join our catalog of shows like Dancing with the Stars.”

He cites another example in Koso Koso, a format for which they partnered with Nippon TV to co-develop in Japan. It’s a comedy game show where celebrities play pranks on unsuspecting contestants to win cash prizes for themselves. “I’m confident that audiences in Latin America would enjoy it.”

In addition to generating hits with its various formats on free TV in the region, Aguirre at Fremantle International highlights that the company’s productions have also performed well on major streaming platforms. “We’ve had success in different regions with our formats on streaming platforms,” she says. “We are driven to inspire, excite, spark emotions and aliment spirits. We are going to continue to do what we do best, connect with audiences and deliver irresistible entertainment.”

Torres at All3Media International emphasizes the importance of establishing new partners in the region. “Our key objectives include finding partners for newer formats like the global phenomenon The Traitors and buzzy new titles like The Underdog in Latin America as well as exploring opportunities for scripted formats and bringing new versions of classic formats to the region.”