Case Study: Rich House Poor House

TV Formats takes a look at the various global versions of the format Rich House Poor House, which explores whether or not money really does buy happiness.

The issue of wealth disparity is a timely one, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen in most countries around the globe. The series Rich House Poor House follows two families from opposite ends of this divide as they trade places. The format is sold by Hat Trick International.

“The starting point for development was a research study by the Office for National Statistics, the U.K.’s national statistical institute, which demonstrated the growing wealth divide in Britain,” explains Sarah Tong, the director of sales at Hat Trick International. “The statistics showed that the gap between rich and poor had grown by a third in the last decade. The weekly budgets of households in the top 10 percent are, on average, seven times as much as those in the bottom 10 percent. Behind the statistics, of course, are real families, and that got us thinking about how much wealth ***Imagen***matters to a family’s well-being. Does such a big difference in spending power equate to a similar difference in life satisfaction?”

The factual show was first produced in the U.K. by Hat Trick Productions for Channel 5. “Because the premise of the program is centered on happiness and how much genuine value money has, we wanted the two families who swapped to have fundamental things in common,” Tong explains. “Their financial situations might be worlds apart but their shared values and characteristics mean they can relate to each other in a way that has a personal resonance. This, in turn, delivers an emotional investment in each other’s situation. The families’ empathy for each other defines the tone of the programs. Our aim was for the series to be insightful and thought-provoking but also funny, entertaining, heartwarming and ultimately uplifting.”

The show went straight to series in Germany with SAT.1, and was also quickly commissioned for a local version in the Netherlands with SBS6. The Rich House Poor House format has now been licensed into France, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand and Sweden, and Tong says there are a number of other markets in discussion. “The wealth divide that we are experiencing in the U.K. is not unique; it’s a worldwide issue,” she notes. “It is a truly relatable show and therefore resonates globally.”

Tong says that the format itself is easy to adapt as well. “It’s a simple format that educates and entertains the audience with a universal problem. And the central issue is: Is the amount of money that a family has ultimately what makes it a happy family?”

The original U.K. version features families from the top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent of the wealth bracket; however, “these percentages can be tweaked depending on the country, but you always have to have a large percentage of people in each to make the show relatable to the audience,” says Tong. “The two families featured in each episode need to have a common link—be it children, upbringing, religion, etc.—that [connects] them to each other. So, although their wealth and spending patterns are hugely different, they do have a lot in common as well, which will make them understand each other fundamentally if not in money terms.”

The producer of the U.K. series is “very much involved” with the local adaptations, Tong says, “working with producers to help them understand the finer points of the format and what can be achieved both on an entertainment and emotional level for each program. The show needs to be engaging for audiences—it isn’t just a social experiment.”

She adds that Hat Trick International is “very pleased with the interest we have had in the series. The wealth divide is, as I say, a global phenomenon and therefore we are talking to broadcasters from all around the world who want to raise the issue for their viewers in an interesting and entertaining way.”