Game Time


Leading distributors offer up their perspectives on how to win in the competitive game-show formats space.

Game shows never go out of style, but making an impact with one amid a sea of options—from the long-running juggernauts to vintage classics being dusted off for a new era to brand-new spins that are tapping into technological advancements to make at-home viewers feel like they are competitors—has never been more challenging.

The good news is that demand is surging; the strikes in Hollywood left a lot of gaps in broadcast network fall schedules, so there are several game shows in U.S. prime time again. And the appetite in the rest of the world shows no sign of diminishing.

“Game shows are always in the forefront and always will be,” says Paul Gilbert, senior VP of formats at Paramount Global Content Distribution. “They are less expensive than other forms of programming, and the return can be high. Low cost and high ratings—it doesn’t get any better than that.”

“When I speak to clients around the world, there’s always a feeling that viewers come to game shows,” adds Andre Renaud, senior VP of global format sales at BBC Studios. “Regardless of what’s happening around the world, I don’t see any waning of game shows happening anytime soon in markets where there is already an appetite for them. I am starting to see that markets that don’t necessarily have a traditional appetite for game shows are also considering them. You can film three or four of these in a day.”

Tom Miyauchi, head of formats at Nippon TV’s global business unit, is of a similar perspective, noting: “Our view is that game-show formats are expected to remain resilient during budget constraints and uncertainties in the market due to their cost-effectiveness and trusted outcomes.”

Global Agency is feeling especially bullish about the U.S. at present, looking to land local commissions on The Married Game and Match the Family, according to Izzet Pinto, founder and CEO. “There is a great interest in unscripted from the U.S.,” Pinto observes. “In the next six to 12 months, we will see many formats on the screen.”

The slowdown of scripted, in the U.S. and elsewhere, is goosing demand for game-show formats, concurs Sophie Ferron, co-principal at GRB Media Ranch, the distribution joint venture between GRB Studios and format specialist Media Ranch. “However, game shows usually have hosts— who [were not] able to perform” due to the U.S. actors’ strike. “And game shows take a lot of development and expertise to get right. I foresee perhaps a small bump in what we’ll see out there—but not a huge shift.”

As for how to craft the perfect game show, Renaud highlights the importance of having a simple premise that can be easily understood, questions and topics that can be easily localized, and, he says, “make it as visual as possible.”

Ferron also stresses the importance of “solid, simple gameplay,” noting, “If it has that, it is scalable. And relatability and playability. We all want to spell the word on Wheel of Fortune. We all want to guess the song on Beat Shazam. We all want to know if our answers fall in line with the top 100 on Family Feud and to ask what that says about us. Our show Watch! plays on the fact that no matter how enthralling a performance is, we all see things differently, and it’s difficult to remember and describe reality.”

All3Media International is promising easy adaptability for Catch Phrase, the prime-time game show created by Pasetta Productions and Steven Radosh. “Every country has its own iconic catchphrases, and this beloved prime-time hit holds endless global appeal,” says Nick Smith, executive VP of formats at the company.

Meanwhile, BBC Studios’ The 1% Club, a key highlight for MIPCOM, “is not about what you know; it’s just about what you see,” Renaud says.

At Nippon TV, Miyauchi distills the essence of a good game-show format down to three core pillars: universal appeal, scalability and audience engagement.

“First of all, universal appeal is the key—a strong, relatable concept, touching wider audiences while avoiding any cultural references that may be specific to a country or territory,” he says. Alongside that, he notes, is the need to establish “clear and concise rules and structure for the format to keep consistency and make it easy to replicate across multiple markets.”

Miyauchi explains that scalability is paramount for accommodating different budget levels, and audience interactivity is more important than ever. “By incorporating elements such as guessing and voting that allow for audience participation, it builds a sense of community and engagement around the format.”

Indeed, in surveying leading format sales executives about what’s transforming the game-show sector, it turns out that “interactivity,” while not a new concept, is essential for a successful game-show format today.

BBC Studios is rolling out a play-along app for The 1% Club, a fairly new game-show format that is becoming a significant hit for the company. “The success of The 1% Club keeps growing for us and for Magnum Media,” Renaud explains. “We’re on air in seven countries.”

Home play-along is also central to All3Media International’s brand-new Picture Slam, which hails from Objective Media’s Triple Brew. “Easy to play, hard to win,” says Smith. “This is the game where you need to know something about everything. Now more than ever, we are bombarded with pictures and images, making this addictive new prime-time quiz timely. Easy to play along at home, it will have viewers hooked to the TV and laughing from start to finish.”

Global Agency’s Pinto observes: “It’s very important to make formats more interactive right now. For example, a board game is on sale for Joker, and we are working on designing a live app for Match the Family.”

GRB Media Ranch’s Ferron has also witnessed new approaches to technology in game-show formats and points to an emerging interest in hybrids. “For example, our paper format Watch! is a hybrid between variety and quiz; proven format Round Table is singing meets game strategy; and our Horsepower incubator-made paper format House Party, which is based on the hit game Just Dance, uses state-of-the-art tech developed by Ubisoft to ensure that the TV version has the gameplay recognized by fans of the game.”

BBC Studios’ Renaud also points to the fusing of genres in game-show formats and is of the perspective that “physicality is back, but not necessarily in the way we might think. It’s not necessarily physical game shows but something with movement. While budgets are tight, we’re seeing something else come through: game shows that are not stationary. Moneybags is an example—they’re physically picking up things as they go. Breaking Point, which we had on RTL in Germany, where you’re waiting to see what the breaking point of something is, also has a lot of physicality. And the game within a game, a hybrid with reality, is also picking up interest.”

Nippon TV, too, is plugging hybrids like Suspects on the Set. “The murder mystery game show incorporates elements of scripted drama to heighten the thrill and create unique and engaging experiences across audiences from both genres,” Miyauchi says. “Also, there is sometimes ‘gamification’ in game shows, taking inspiration from video games by incorporating elements such as leveling up, earning life points and clues to unlock stages. Our best example in this genre is Time Potion, a high-concept game show where time is the ultimate ruler and time potion is used as an item to recover time.”

Interactivity and hybrid elements are helping to inject new life into veteran game-show brands, with innovation required season after season to keep audiences engaged.

“We work with the right partners as a distributor,” says Global Agency’s Pinto on maintaining the success of a game-show brand. “The local producers in each country are adding new elements or twists to keep the format fresh. As long as the format goes well, every season is better than the previous one, as their budgets increase. That’s why many of our formats have been on air for about ten years, bringing new versions around the world.”

GRB Media Ranch’s Ferron stresses the need to “balance familiarity with freshness. There is a reason people watch, say, Family Feud. We get it, and it has a feeling of nostalgia and comfort. However, it also innovates in terms of the style of questions, the tone, the type of families, enhancing the set, etc. Also, new challenges and twists that feel authentic to the show are important to bring into the mix every so often.”

Looking for a fresh take is especially important when trying to resurrect a classic game-show brand, observes Renaud: “People are looking for authenticity and truth in storytelling. That also can go through into a great game show. If I look at Friends Like These, does it have to be gendered groups now? Can it be colleagues? Can it be things that make it a bit more modern and inclusive? If you look at The Weakest Link, the people hosting it now are true comedians. There’s a wink and nudge that makes it feel more inclusive, warmer and less combative.”

Indeed, choosing the right host is key to a game show’s success, Renaud says. “We spend a lot of time on the role of a host in a particular game show. Are they on your side? Are they your enemy? Are they there to create a sense of fun? That’s crucial in finding the talent to allow that to happen and create the atmosphere.”

It’s equally important to choose the right contestants, and that differs depending on the nature of the show, according to Paramount’s Gilbert. “Jeopardy! is a very intellectual show that requires very smart contestants. Wheel of Fortune, on the other hand, looks for contestants who are outgoing and can solve the puzzles.”

“We work with the best casting directors in each country,” says Pinto at Global Agency. “We discover colorful characters for TV, and those characters even go viral on TV.”

Nippon TV is bringing Masquerade back to Japanese viewers for the first time since the pandemic, with a special 99th episode planned for the show, which has been on the air since 1979. “One major point when we plan the show lies in the detailed meetings with the contestants so that the performances will be stronger and the talents are diverse, ensuring that the viewers’ experiences are more engaging than ever,” Miyauchi explains. “It is very difficult to ‘better’ the show each time, but our dedication casts a good vibe to the contestants and creates miraculous performances, leading to great results in ratings and views.”

GRB Media Ranch’s Ferron distills her approach to casting game shows down to three words: “Excited, entertaining, confident. We want to feel excited to get the correct price on The Price Is Right and feel that rush and jubilation of the contestant while laughing with their over-the-topness.”

Perhaps the biggest selling point of game-show formats is their versatility; the best can be easily adapted to any budget level and time slot.

“A good format has to be scalable,” says Renaud at BBC Studios. “We’re talking about elements that satisfy a daytime viewer and budget versus a prime-time viewer and budget. You’re possibly looking at games that can be played across the week in a daily strip instead of high-stakes stand-alone. The tone is usually lighter for daytime, and there’s quite a lot more tension in prime time. Let’s remember that game shows have transitioned from daytime to prime time and can have those versions, and you see what scales up. The Weakest Link in the U.K. at the moment is in access. An excellent format is always scalable.”

Paramount’s Gilbert has a similar opinion, noting, “It’s possible to take most any access game show and make it look prime time by making the set bigger and flashy. Referring to Wheel of Fortune, in the U.S., the daily version also plays in prime time. The prime-time version is 60 minutes versus 30 minutes for the daily show, and the prize money is more.”

A studio set can be scaled up to accommodate a prime-time slot, Pinto notes. “Naturally, in this way, a shiny-floor project emerges for prime time. Bigger productions come out due to having a big budget. We run the business with one celebrity in smaller studios for daily access formats. But, since daily formats are aired five times a week, they are even more significant than prime time in the economy.”

“We would say that daytime and access prime are more familiar and comfortable,” observes Ferron at GRB Media Ranch. “Less focus is needed, and it’s more about the zaniness of the contestants. Prime time has higher stakes, more tech, bigger budgets, more celebrities and drama.”

While the genre has long been best suited to linear viewing, Renaud doesn’t count out game shows in the streaming space.

“Streamers will continue to try all genres to capture the audience,” he says. “Even if you look at how streamers were exploring reality as a genre to begin with and how we all thought perhaps that wouldn’t be something that would work, they continue to test the models. The insight and the data streamers have means they can drill down into what viewers enjoy when they’re watching something. There’s a way of differentiating that streamers will probably continue working on. I don’t think they’ll walk away from it—especially streamers with linear channels that can stream across all their platforms.”