Kristin Brzoznowski checks in on the latest innovations in dance formats.
Artistry and athleticism are on full display, creating moments that are both visually arresting and filled with emotion—these are qualities that a good dance show can deliver. With this come the benefits of reaching mass audiences, making noise in a schedule and creating a long-running franchise that can sit as a staple in a broadcaster’s grid for years to come. It’s no wonder, then, that producers and distributors have been looking to the dance floor to inspire the next big entertainment hit.
The resounding success of Dancing with the Stars in the global market is proof that dance-themed formats can translate into big business. The celebrity-filled ballroom spectacle has been going strong for well over a decade, and the show continues to anchor prime time on many channels around the world. And there’s a new crop of dance series ready to sashay their way into the hearts of viewers and up the ante on what audiences have come to expect.
“The thing with dance is, whether you’re a dancer or not, you can still relate to it; that’s why it’s such a great topic for an entertainment show,” says Amelia Brown, managing director of Fremantle’s Thames. “Even if you have two left feet, you can still appreciate someone who is a beautiful dancer and, most importantly, feel moved by it. That’s why dance has always been in favor.”
Thames teamed up with Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment on the buzzy dance talent show The Greatest Dancer. The format, which Fremantle hopes will follow in the footsteps of its other Syco co-produced megahits Got Talent and The X Factor, features dancers from all disciplines and shifts the focus to the human stories of those taking part. “It’s not just about the dance, it’s about the person and their experience and having everyone be part of that experience,” says Brown, who serves as an executive producer on the BBC One series, which has been ordered for a second season.
“Throughout the show, it’s about what dance means to that person,” she adds. “It’s not necessarily about, is this the best dance routine you’ve ever seen; it’s about what makes the greatest dancer, and that could be a number of things. It could be how they tell their story, how they interpret the music or how they make the audience feel. All those elements help make The Greatest Dancer stand out.”
START A REVOLUTION
The stand-out element in Armoza Formats’ Dance Revolution is best described as “the revolution moment,” when state-of-the-art technology captures a 360-degree snapshot of each dancer’s most spectacular moves. The freeze-frame is used to showcase the dancer’s precise movements and form and reveals intricacies that empower the judges to make their decisions about the contestant’s fate in the competition.
“The key element here is that it was not created just to add to the production value; it’s an integral part of the storytelling of the format,” says Avi Armoza, CEO of Armoza Formats. “It’s a key tool for the judges to evaluate the dancer, and it’s a key moment from the point of view of the dancer to prove their capability and improve their dance from one stage to another. The success of the format is its ability to integrate the technology and visual elements into the storytelling.”
The show was produced by Quebecor Content and Fair-Play for TVA in Canada, where it garnered around a 35-percent market share.
Meanwhile, the combination of dancing and dating drives the USP of all3media international’s Flirty Dancing format. “The contributors have a very different motivation from those taking part in other dance shows,” says Nick Smith, the company’s executive VP of formats. “They are not trying to win money or forge a career in dance; they are looking for love. There is much more on the line for them. They will generally not be as experienced dancers as you’ll see on other dance formats, but their nerves from performing publicly coupled with the tension from dancing with someone they have never met before, let alone danced with, brings another dimension to the format.”
DANCE TO ROMANCE
The dances in Flirty Dancing all take place in striking locations, “which gives a cinematic feeling to the show,” says Smith. “No matter how much money you spend on creating a beautiful set, it will always be an artificial environment. Being set in the real world adds to Flirty Dancing’s authenticity.”
The dancers in Keshet International’s Masters of Dance, meanwhile, are at the top of their game, delivering high-energy,physically-demanding performances in each show. “The athleticism is something that has really spoken to a lot of viewers,” says Kelly Wright, the company’s senior VP of distribution and new business. “Normally, when you say dance show, broadcasters think it’s a little bit niche, a little bit soft, a little bit too female-skewing. If you look at the demographics in Israel [on Keshet 12]—and to be fair, it is a female-skewing channel—we had 42 percent male viewers on a dance competition across 20 episodes. In Germany [where it aired on ProSieben], more men were watching the show than women. It’s opened up this incredible art to the masses. The fact that we’re able to reach a really strong male audience and attract them away from sports or other programming that airs at the exact same time as our prime-time competition is unprecedented in the genre.”
Sports terminology is even part of the description of the format’s core components. “We have teams and coaches; it’s tournament-style, with battles and duels,” explains Wright. “It’s a language and format that speak to a wide audience. It’s not esoteric. It’s not artsy-fartsy. It’s really strong and impressive. The themes of the battles as well bring out so much dynamic creativity on behalf of both the dancers and the dance masters that you watch it with your jaw on the floor.”
THE PERFECT PANEL
The “dance masters” that she is referring to are also integral to the format. These professionals—established dancers or choreographers whose talent and expertise have earned international acclaim—are as involved and fiercely competitive as the dancers themselves. “It’s not a panel like you would see on other more generic talent shows, where the judges have zero skin in the game and are just sitting back saying ‘Oh nice, cool,’” says Wright. “Here, it’s a dog-eat-dog competition between people who are extremely proud. They are perfectionists; they have super-specific aesthetic values that they want to see enacted perfectly on stage. They become so intensely involved in the competition. It’s not even necessarily about beating the other masters; it’s about bringing out the very best performance that they can onto the stage.”
Thames’s Brown shares a similar sentiment about what the panelists in a dance competition should bring to the table. “Credibility is number one,” she says, adding that it’s important to ensure that a range of dance styles are covered by those credible captains. Brown then lists passion and camaraderie as the next most essential qualities, trailed by the relationships and dynamics between them. “That’s touch and go because you never really know you’ve got that chemistry until you’re filming halfway through day one,” she says. “When you get the mix right and the chemistry is right, that’s worth its weight in gold.”
Brown adds that it’s equally important for the hosts on a show like The Greatest Dancer to have credibility. Pepper in some charisma and it’s a winning combination. The caliber of those credible hosts, judges and mentors can also make “a massive difference in who wants to audition and the general vibe of the entire show,” she notes.
A series the scale of The Greatest Dancer is positioned for prime time, though Brown adds that it could even play on the earlier side of the peak slots.
Armoza asserts that a show like Dance Revolution is a peak-time play, as it delivers family entertainment. “In terms of the budget and the ability of the broadcaster to recoup their investment, it’s most suitable for prime time,” he says.
Armoza, working with Omnicom Media Group-owned Highway Entertainment and Canadian broadcaster TVA, has come up with an innovative funding model for Dance Revolution to help with the costs. “The current reality of the TV market, and especially the commercial TV market, calls for a new model of investment and participation,” says Armoza. “Omnicom is able to provide any potential broadcaster with additional funding based on cooperation for unsold media. This gives broadcasters the added value of additional funding into the production of the show.”
Keshet International’s Wright echoes the idea that what works best for dance formats today are large-scale shows that do require substantial investment. “To replicate the show that we did in Israel, it’s a massive studio, two stages, there are CGI graphics, in-studio voting, a voting bar and everything,” she says. “That’s really the only way to showcase the scale of the dances as well. They are all themed, so they use props and different costumes in every single dance in every battle. You need that kind of space to showcase a dance troupe. There’s no way of getting around that. But, the auditions are much more intimate. They’re hosted in a smaller space.”
Even though Flirty Dancing is relatively new to the marketplace, having launched on Channel 4 in the U.K. in January, there’s already talk about how the format can be built out, according to all3media international’s Smith. “We have clients excited about what they can do with the format, including incorporating the odd celebrity in their adaptations and special themed editions set around national holidays.”
The feel-good appeal of Flirty Dancing should pique broadcasters’ interest. “Much like a rom-com, audiences are left with a beam on their face (having potentially shed a few tears along the way),” he adds.
The show also rated strongly, particularly with the much-coveted younger demo, he says.
DRAWN TO THE DANCE FLOOR
Keshet International’s Masters of Dance is also a draw with younger viewers. On ProSieben, the series’ average share in the 14-to-29 segment was double that of the adult audience 30 to 49, Wright explains. With a VOD program running alongside the show, and video clips of performances that go viral, the format is able to reach these young audiences in a variety of ways.
“Technology, audience engagement, all those elements enable you to build a new language of communication with the viewers and engage them wherever they are,” adds Armoza.
The viral sharing of the “revolution moments” from Dance Revolution has also driven interest in the show, he says. “You can go on Instagram or Facebook and see stunning visual moments that connect with people. This is something that you want to watch again and again. It helps to strengthen the whole brand when you interact with it across all platforms.”
Pictured: all3media international’s Flirty Dancing.