Gil Formats’ Assaf Gil

Gil Formats Founder and CEO Assaf Gil shares with TV Formats his thoughts on the current format landscape.

The stories of people working in emergency-service occupations come to light in Life on Duty, for which Gil Formats notched up recent deals in key markets around the world. The factual-entertainment series is but one example of the type of “intelligent yet very commercial formats” that the company prides itself on offering to the marketplace. Gil says that formats, like Life on Duty, that have “different concepts that challenge our existing perception of what a genre is” are what pique buyers’ interest.

TV FORMATS: What was behind the launch of Gil Formats?
GIL: Gil Productions was established in 1992. We were one of the pioneers of the format world and were optioning and licensing formats from that time onward. Gil Formats was only established in 2015, when we realized we had enough formats of our own and felt there needed to be a designated platform to both develop and distribute this IP. So today, Gil Productions is a production outfit (and a very busy one), and Gil Formats focuses on development and distribution.

A lot of buyers identify our touch and style in the formats we create and distribute. We feel that we are one of the few independent boutique outfits that give intelligent yet very commercial formats, and in this, we secure our position in the marketplace.

***Image***TV FORMATS: You’ve been credited as being one of the first to license international formats locally. Tell me about your initial experience in doing so.
GIL: The format world when I first started was significantly different from the current TV world as we know it. There was just a handful of international companies dealing with formats, and most of them were dedicated to smaller-scale game formats. It took some time before companies realized that almost any good show could travel and thus be marketed as a format. Most of the formats being sold at that time were U.S. formats and there were a few Brits that just began selling. The Israeli market began to buy formats extensively only in 1994, when the first commercial channel, Channel 2, was launched here.

TV FORMATS: What are some of the greatest shifts you’ve witnessed in the format market from when you started to where it is today?
GIL: The format market today comprises a huge chunk of the business that used to rely almost entirely on finished program sales in the early 1990s and before. I think that the biggest shift in the market was when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was launched and sold to the U.S. Until that time, formats were selling much more than before, but it was the first significant sale made from Europe to the U.S. and not the other way around. Survivor and other formats followed, and their success led the way to a change in the acquisition of formats by the U.S. and that impacted the whole world, naturally. Since then, formats can be born anywhere potentially, and a few markets have made a name for themselves as hot places to incubate new formats. Israel is definitely one of them, and I am sure that Israeli creativity will be long-standing in the international marketplace.

The other issue of recent years is the search for “the next big one” in the format world. Not enough strong and revolutionary new formats were created recently, and this is coupled with the general economic atmosphere influencing broadcasters not to take too many risks by recommissioning formats that are performing (only) OK, as well as revivals of old favorites rather than making bold moves and commissioning truly different formats rather than derivative ones. When this happens—as was the case with Married at First Sight, for example, which was truly revolutionary, or The Circle or even Masked Singer commissioned by FOX—it’s a breath of fresh air to the market.

TV FORMATS: What seems to be working in the format landscape at present?
GIL: We need different concepts that challenge our existing perception of what a genre is. One of the ones we created is Life on Duty. When we pitch this format, a lot of buyers tell us, “Oh, but we have a lot of emergency shows.” But Life on Duty is not another emergency show. Unlike the 9-1-1 shows that focus on a venue (such as a hospital) or a unit (such as a firefighter squad), Life on Duty focuses on people who are carefully selected because of their personal stories that challenge their professional routines. We follow these individuals almost 24/7 to capture both their inspiring personal stories as well as the sacrifices they make in their private lives in order to save other people. It’s an emotional format that skews much more female than all-emergency shows, and has performed splendidly both in Israel and Spain and was picked up recently by TF1 in France. This format gives a totally new dimension to emergency shows through a new angle of storytelling.

TV FORMATS: What makes Pregnant & Platonic stand out?
GIL: Pregnant & Platonic was co-created by Gil Formats and MY Entertainment in the States based on my personal voyage to becoming a father. It focuses on the amazing phenomenon of men and women who wish to cooperate in order to become parents although they are not romantically involved. I was very fortunate to find an amazing partner for this process, and the format concentrates on the personal story of these men and women rather than the mechanism of parenthood. Having gone through this process, I know that co-parenting is a brilliant method if you find the right partner, and this is exactly what the format focuses on: finding the right match. The format will launch this year, first as a one-off on BBC, and it is also in production for a series in Finland for Nelonen.

TV FORMATS: What opportunities do you see for formats in the streaming space?
GIL: Gil Formats was one of the first format creators to sell a format to Facebook. Our format Oh My Dog! is produced in the U.S. by 3 Ball Entertainment for Facebook and launched as World’s Most Amazing Dog. The show was previously produced in Israel. The new world of digital platforms creates a huge challenge in a land yet explored. If a local broadcaster needs to find popular formats for the biggest scope of audience they can—the mainstream crowd—the digital platform has a very difficult nut to crack: finding formats that would appeal to the biggest scope of audience worldwide, transcending barriers of culture and language. It is an amazing challenge, and we are very fortunate to be part of it with a competition of dog owners from all over the world to find the ultimate dog on a very pet-friendly platform such as Facebook.