Monday, July 16, 2018
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Format Fever

Distributors weigh in about the kinds of formats that are in demand among broadcasters across Europe.

As fear of the FAANGs looms in the linear TV community, many broadcasters across Europe are looking to localized entertainment for the type of compelling programming that will set them apart and get audiences to switch off from streaming. Shows that can be tailored to the tastes of viewers in a given country (and make some noise for the channel) are enjoying a rather nice boost across both Western and Eastern Europe, and format distributors are reporting interest in a broad range of genres as well.

“The format business in Central and Eastern Europe continues to grow,” says Bo Stehmeier, the senior VP of global sales at Red Arrow Studios International. “The market is maturing, and there is more appetite for risk. These countries are a bit more experimental and keen to explore different shows, in comparison to those in the West.”

In Western Europe, Stehmeier continues, “the pressure in the television ecosystem is very high. The shows that broadcasters do acquire have to hit. So, when you sell a format into Western Europe, it’s about having a proven track record.”

Armed with megahits such as Dancing with the Stars and The Great Bake Off, BBC Studios is able to tout track records for many of its formats to European buyers. Dancing with the Stars, for one, “has stood the test of time,” says Sumi Connock, creative director for formats. “We signed up three new territories last year and three more this year. Interestingly, Poland has more seasons (21) than anywhere outside of the U.S.”

The show counts recent launches in Spain and in Iceland, where it “quadrupled the slot audience,” according to Connock. “In Ireland, the broadcaster replaced The Voice with Dancing with the Stars, decisively beating all time-slot competition, more than quadrupling the share of its closest rival and achieving an astonishing 47.2-percent audience share for the season two finale.”

Bake Off, too, has seen wide-ranging success in Europe, airing in countries from the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Denmark. “The thing aboutBake Off is that it has a really loyal audience; its performance tends to grow from season to season,” says Connock. “The series has successfully moved channels within the same territory. It’s been the number one show in the U.K. on three of the five terrestrial channels. We have seen the same in Poland; it started on TLC with two seasons and moved to TVP2,” where it’s now in its fourth season.

Game shows have also been traveling well across Europe, Connock says. She points to You’re Back in the Room, which is in production in Slovakia for TV Markíza, as a notable success. “We had it on in Portugal, where the second episode of the season beat the Got Talent Portugal premiere. [The producers also] found a new production model that meant it could record more than one episode a day, so that’s made it a bit more cost-effective without impacting the production values,” and all the more appealing to buyers in the region keeping a close eye on budgets.

Similarly, Endemol Shine Group found a way to contain costs for its large-scale, prime-time game show The Wall, which it represents globally and has sold across Europe to countries such as France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Romania. “When we look at that show and its success in the U.S., we want to take it into all markets, but the format requires a very expensive studio and quite a big investment for the construction of the wall,” says Marina Williams, COO of international operations at Endemol Shine Group. “We came up with the idea to build a hub in Poland. People were initially skeptical; they were not sure if it would have a high-quality technical team or if they could find enough of a fan base to fill the studio. But this hub has exceeded everybody’s expectations—it’s a phenomenal success.”

In addition to The Wall, Williams reports strong sales across Europe for the music format Your Face Sounds Familiar, which she says has charmed audiences in CEE with its “light comedy” and “nostalgic” qualities. The competition series The Brain, which originated in Germany, has been adapted in Poland, Croatia and Serbia, as well as in Russia, where it’s had three seasons. “The more seasons you produce for this show, the more challenges you design, and every new client can further benefit from that,” Williams says of The Brain.

For all3media international, constructed reality has been a top seller across CEE, notably its titles from the Filmpool catalog. RTL in Hungary has commissioned nearly 1,700 episodes of Day & Night, and Tako Media continues to produce Families at the Crossroads and Cases of Doubt in Poland for Polsat.

“We have a lot of success in CEE with our big factual-entertainment formats as well,” says Lucy Roberts, sales manager for formats in EMEA North at all3media international. She highlights Undercover Boss, 10 Years Younger and Kitchen Nightmares in particular.

In Western Europe, the company has landed solid sales on Studio Lambert’s Be My Guest, which has a weekly version in the Netherlands and a daily version in Belgium.

“As well as the bigger demand for factual entertainment, I’m seeing an appetite for scripted,” Roberts reports. “TV2 in Hungary will be producing more episodes of South Pacific Pictures’ romantic dramedy Step Dave this year. Russia and Ukraine are really looking toward scripted format ideas as well—I foresee a lot of potential there.”

This news bodes well for South Korea’s CJ E&M, which is looking to increase business across Europe with remakes of its scripted hits. The drama Tears of Heaven was adapted in Turkey for ATV with much success, and the company is close to finalizing a deal with a production company in Russia for a local treatment of a crime series.

“When we were initially targeting CEE, telenovelas previously gathered a lot of interest,” says Diane Min, senior sales manager. “These days, now that CJ E&M is growing its library of crime and suspense dramas, these are also garnering interest in the EU.”

Min says the company is finding a bigger appetite for its scripted formats in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe. “We are consistently receiving inquiries from CEE buyers about stories with a strong lead character so that if needed, more interesting stories could be built around that character,” she adds.

Senay Tas, sales director for CEE at Global Agency, has also noticed that channels in the region are increasingly opting to localize scripted series. But overall, she says, the company has seen the most traction in this part of the world with “feel-good” and “cost-effective” formats.

“We have a lot of good daily strip formats in our catalog and that has become more of a trend in many of the CEE territories,” says Tas. As the economies in countries across Central and Eastern Europe have continued to feel a pinch, having a show that can deliver a high volume and amortize the cost is certainly alluring for buyers.

“We have quite a few really good singing talent shows in our catalog, but the big shiny-floor shows are a bit harder to sell in these territories,” she says. “It’s a challenge, and I’m trying my best to make it happen.”

The entertainment behemoths that have been working well in prime time across Europe largely continue to do so, holding onto their slots as broadcasters recommission them season after season.

“It is true that because all the big juggernauts are still working, there is more of a demand for access-prime entertainment in the region, which is probably why game shows are selling so well,” says BBC Studios’ Connock. “You can record multiple episodes and still have really high production values. There are more slots available for [formats with] those kinds of budgets.”

Red Arrow’s Stehmeier agrees that broadcasters in the region are eyeing formats for access prime now more than ever. “In the olden days, access was like a lead-in slot,” he says. “Now, you have to be fairly punchy before prime. Looking at prime time, you now have to be über-punchy. A show has to be really emotional; it has to grab you and [keep you engaged] for an entire hour.”

The company has clinched access-prime slots in the region with My Restaurant Rocks and Shop! Cook! Win!, for example. In prime time, the social experiment Married at First Sight has been a resounding success, and the property-based Buying Blind is picking up steam.

“Social experiments are one of our strong suits,” Stehmeier says. “Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds is really emotional and topical,” which are both valuable propositions for prime time. “If you’re a broadcaster, not only are you delivering emotionally but you’ve also got something for the journalists to write about to position the channel and the slot. It’s important to help the broadcaster to grow its brand equity.”

For access prime, Stehmeier says formats that are sponsorship-led or can feature product placement are quite desirable. “In CEE, the laws around sponsorship and product placement are more relaxed than in the Western European countries,” he notes. “If you look at the landscape, CEE has smaller countries and smaller television households. Budget is a big factor for the broadcasters. They love the big prime-time shows, but often they are too expensive unless you can [build a hub]. So you do always have the budget factor when you’re selling into CEE.

“When you sell into Western Europe, if the show is right, the budget is there,” Stehmeier continues. “It just needs to be proven and tested, and they’ll run with it.”

As budgets in Central and Eastern Europe are generally a bit tighter, it’s particularly challenging to secure a format commission from one of the smaller, more niche channels in the region. “I have been selling style shows, for example, to some niche channels in CEE and they are working well,” says Global Agency’s Tas. “But we’re mainly focusing on selling our formats to the free-TV channels.”

“On the whole, it is still mostly the main free-to-air channels that are commissioning formats in CEE, although there are increasingly discussions about acquiring for secondary channels now,” says all3media international’s Roberts. “In a few rare cases, there are opportunities online as well. I recently closed my first format deal for AVOD-only in Russia.”

Russia is cited by many executives, Roberts among them, as being a particularly buoyant market for format sales. “There are so many channels and production companies, and they are open to a wide variety of genres,” she says. “We have local versions of 10 Years Younger and Sexy Beasts on air, plus two other non-scripted and two scripted projects in the works.”

“I have noticed that success of a show in Russia gives an unbelievable boost to the pickup rate of the format elsewhere,” says Endemol Shine’s Williams. She saw it first with Your Face Sounds Familiar, then had a similar experience with The Brain.

“It was difficult to sell The Brain at first; nobody believed that they could find enough talent, which is the key to casting. After Russia made it, and it was the highest-rated show of the year, everybody started to express interest. The viewers across the region are similar: they love entertainment, they love comedy, and they love a celebration when it comes to television.”

Williams also lists Poland as being a hot market. Following on the success it saw there with a hub for The Wall, Endemol Shine is readying one for the Fear Factor format in the country as well.

“Now that Poland has proven itself as a hub for game shows, we’re also looking to expand that offer to other markets,” says Williams. “We are creating hubs for our other shows, even reality.”

Red Arrow’s Stehmeier is particularly enthused about the future prospects of “über-sizing access prime,” especially through the production-hub model, for boosting format sales in the region. “There’s a real opportunity to go big in access prime through central-hub production mechanisms,” he says, “where setup costs can be shared and also be financed by brands or product placements. The time is right to help move prime-time audiences into access—and achieving that would bring a real commercial tear to my eye!”

Pictured: BBC Studios’ Dancing with the Stars on Polsat in Poland.

About Kristin Brzoznowski

Kristin Brzoznowski is the executive editor of World Screen. She can be reached at


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