Keshet’s Avi Nir

In the ultra-competitive arena of music talent shows, Keshet International has managed to break through with its interactive format Rising Star. In addition to its stellar performance in Israel, where five seasons have been broadcast, the series has seen hundreds of episodes airing worldwide, and the format has evolved over time to incorporate fresh creative concepts that originated from different territories. This dedication to constant innovation is one of the hallmarks of Keshet Media Group’s overall business strategy. The company currently has 18 formats on air globally, including another strong performer in the talent space, Masters of Dance, and a number of hit scripted shows that have been remade around the world. Avi Nir, CEO of Keshet Media Group, gives his view on the current state of the format market.

TV FORMATS: What sort of cross-pollination and shared practices are there between Keshet’s various assets inside and outside of Israel?
NIR: This is one of the toughest managerial challenges. On the one hand, it’s about keeping the various parts of the group totally independent and hungry and eager to create their own IP. On the other hand, it’s about gaining from the connection to the other companies. We are constantly trying to work on communicating, listening to each other, [exchanging] ideas and IP. We have been pushing the limits. Every manager in every country has their own brainchild and IP, but we’ve also had some great takes on remakes. All in all, Keshet has been an expert in the art of remakes, which is a complicated task! It’s about reincarnating a show, with some DNA resemblance. This is what we strive for. The results this year have been very positive.

TV FORMATS: What are the key ingredients a scripted show must have to travel widely as a format?
NIR: There has to be something in the basic story, the one-liner, that has the ability to connect and engage people very quickly, creators and viewers alike. Sometimes it’s a very idiosyncratic or indigenous story, but they get it. There’s something there that relates to their emotions or conflicts. The creators in Israel and elsewhere tend to go for big stories with strong resonance, and that’s what creates this effect.

TV FORMATS: Looking outside of the scripted-format arena, what must a large-scale, big-budget entertainment show have in order to break through in today’s marketplace?
NIR: It’s been a big year for two of our shows, Masters of Dance and Rising Star. The challenge now, to break through the clutter, is to have the ability to connect. The way we look at it in Israel is that we have to make it a national phenomenon. For prime time, this is what it takes. There has to be something in the basic idea that can create this kind of national impact. Then it’s all about execution, which is always a critical part of achieving what you aim for. From the point of view of free TV, entertainment and reality are incredibly important parts of what we offer. These shows, if they are conceived in the right way and executed in the right way, have the ability to connect with a lot of people and create the sensation of a live, ongoing phenomenon. It doesn’t have to be a live show in the technical sense. It has to feel like something that is happening now.

We currently have another two big formats in development, along with some smaller formats. It’s a very crucial and important part of our diets to have these ubiquitous reality shows.

TV FORMATS: How does digital play into that?
NIR: About 40 percent of Keshet employees are people who deal with digital and social applications. That’s the way we’ve been leaning for the last eight years. We have a very strong digital presence in Israel, so it’s become part of our DNA and the way we tell stories. Sometimes it has to do with the stories we tell on television; sometimes it’s totally independent.

A very interesting move we made this year was into the social-network arena. We created four new brands, which are very entertaining. They are not Keshet-branded; they have their own brands. They are very successful. It is usually based on native content, but done in a very entertaining way and not a “commercial” way. This is part of who we are. As a content company, this is how we define ourselves. It’s not limited to Israel, it’s not limited to linear; it’s the whole package.

TV FORMATS: Do you think that digital and streaming platforms are going to shake up the format arena like they did the drama market?
NIR: With scripted, good drama and comedy are totally indifferent to a streaming service or linear TV. The jury is still out on short-form content. We have a very active digital studio in L.A. that has some bright, fresh concepts that we are currently developing. In the non-scripted arena, it’s still challenging. The bigger success stories are mostly scripted or documentaries. Entertainment and reality formats are still not a major part of the streaming services; their future has yet to be decided.

TV FORMATS: What’s your sense of how the overall format market is faring these days, and where do you see the greatest opportunities ahead in this space?
NIR: We have come a long way and are satisfied with where we are now, but realize there is much more to do. I know how many ideas we are getting [from people] knocking on our doors, and the challenge is to take all of these stories and place them throughout the world. We need, on the one hand, to be very attentive to these stories and, on the other hand, we need to keep growing so that we can totally exploit their potential. Some of the recent steps we made will show you how we plan to do this. We are aiming to step up our infrastructure in order to fully leverage the ideas and stories we have in our company.

TV FORMATS: As the demand for premium drama continues to surge, what’s the breakdown between scripted content and entertainment formats for Keshet Media Group and the local businesses?
NIR: It has changed. It used to be more on the non-scripted side, but in the last two or three years the scripted side has grown very rapidly—the tide turned. Now, with fresh, new non-scripted formats like Masters of Dance and others, it will shift again.

Our crop of scripted series has been very rich in recent years. We are also coming up with two or three big reality shows every year. The balance on the business side, though, is moving toward scripted.

TV FORMATS: Of all Keshet Media Group businesses, is free-TV broadcasting the main driver? Tell us about the developments surrounding Keshet 12.
NIR: That was a significant move for us. We’ve been tenants in Channel 2 for 24 years. The channel started as nothing and became vastly popular—the number one channel in Israel. We weren’t alone; we had some cohabitants with us that shared the success. We have had to create a totally different consumer habit—mainly, pressing 1-2 instead of 2-2 [on the remote]—and 24-year-old habits die hard. We had a big marketing challenge and a big content challenge. The good news is that Keshet 12 is the dominant commercial channel by a nice margin. It was due to the marketing decisions we made, but also the predominance of our content. We are always innovating, whether that’s with new formats, our own formats or inter­national formats.

Keshet is a content company more than a free-TV company. Our success in free television is related to our ability to innovate content and offer viewers something that will invigorate them, challenge them or can even feel comforting to them. We thought very hard about what would be the [flagship] brands for us leading into this mayhem. The good news for us was that Rising Star, which is our own show, had a very good year, as did our new dance competition Masters of Dance. We always felt that the right way for us as a content company was to [have] successful international brands, like MasterChef or Married at First Sight, but more predominantly our own brands. I’m happy to say that it has proven to be very, very successful. I don’t think we’ve ever had a year with so many fresh, new shows. Having double [the amount of] real estate pushes us. It pushes us to come up with more new content, which for Keshet is the real engine.

TV FORMATS: Keshet has been building out its local production businesses, mostly through organic growth, but lately through some strategic acquisitions, including Tresor TV Produktions. How have you and Keshet International’s CEO, Alon Shtruzman, developed this overall production-and-distribution strategy?
NIR: We recognize the great opportunity in the content market, and we are very determined to take more steps, both in the scripted and non-scripted arenas. Alon and his team have been looking for opportunities throughout the world to [bring in] great people and great companies. Tresor is an incredible company, which will expand shortly from non-scripted to also have a strong scripted division. We are looking at more opportunities in Europe and other countries that are pertinent. The shared vision for us and our shareholders is that, alongside our organic growth, we are at the stage where we feel confident enough and have enough pipeline and channels to look for opportunities with great, entrepreneurial companies—lean and mean, ambitious companies. We are actively pursuing this. I expect before the end of the year to have other companies joining the group.

The strategy, like we’ve done with Tresor, is to give these companies the support they need and the pipeline they need from us, but also to support their own creativity, ideas and abilities. The great thing about Tresor and other companies we are looking at is that these are independent companies that are entrepreneurial in their culture and drive. We are looking for companies that will have their own identity and vocation.

TV FORMATS: Why were Keshet UK, Keshet MX, Keshet Asia and the L.A.-based Keshet Studios important flags to put in the ground in KI’s first five years?
NIR: The main hubs of creativity in scripted are the U.K. and the U.S. We have a very active office in L.A. We have a deal with NBC, various pilots in the making and a project in the making with HBO. We have all the infrastructure and a great team led by Peter Traugott, who is a prominent U.S. producer. We have good relationships with writers and creators as well. L.A. is where a lot is happening! We also have a very strong team on the ground in London. These are the biggest markets in the world, and we want to be there.

We also had a great year with dramas in Latin America and Asia. There is a synergy between these leading markets and the rest of the world. Our executives from the U.S. have been flying around [to other markets]. Some ideas are coming from the U.S., but many from other territories.