Jihee Kim, head of global content development at CJ ENM, talks to TV Formats about Love at First Song (LAFS), a format that mixes elements of dating and music shows and matches people who are looking for their soulmates through their musical tastes.
The concept was one of the first projects to come from the global development arm of CJ ENM. It was born from the idea that someone’s taste in music can be a deal-breaker for a potential partner.
“One of our colleagues was talking about her not-so-eventful date over the weekend and how though the guy seemed great, she couldn’t get over the fact that he had bad taste in music,” says Kim. “This got us questioning whether people could fall in love through music. Starting from this initial spark, we explored how it could translate within a music-based program.”
While developing the show, the team pinpointed that the concept could work really well in Vietnam, where the genres of dating and music are “widely popular, but at the same time, the market was so saturated with similar programs that viewers were looking for something fresh—a unique twist on the genres,” Kim says. “We pitched the idea of Love at First Song, and it was successfully commissioned in Vietnam. After localizing the program to better fit the needs of the Vietnamese market, it aired successfully, and that was how Love at First Song came to be.”
The original show launched in Vietnam on VTV3 in January 2018. It was number one in the ratings in Hanoi for 11 consecutive weeks and held onto the position for 13 out of 14 episodes, according to Kim. It boosted channel ratings by 30 percent, and the most-viewed clip on YouTube reached 55.6 million views.
After Vietnam, Malaysia came on board, successfully adapting the show. It has also been commissioned in Korea, where it is currently in pre-production to air in August. The format has been optioned in a number of territories, including Denmark and, most recently, Australia. “We are still getting many offers from across the globe,” says Kim.
There’s also an option on the format in the U.S. market, with the multihyphenate musician John Legend and American Idol producer Simon Lythgoe working together to develop the series. Critical Content is developing and executive producing alongside Get Lifted and Legacy Productions. “As the U.S. is the biggest market in television, having a deal [there] is important,” says Kim. “In March this year, when we released news about the option deal in the U.S. with John Legend, we had inquiries from many new territories. We can’t say for sure since LAFS in the U.S. is still an option deal, but if you look at the case of one of our earlier hits, Grandpas Over Flowers (Better Late Than Never), format sales picked up positive momentum after broadcasting two seasons on NBC.” Grandpas Over Flowers has now been commissioned in more than ten territories.
The premise of the Love at First Song format is rooted in two universal concepts: music and dating. The show follows as people looking for love through music are matched based on their musical preferences and must practice for a duet without seeing one another. They will get to see each other for the first time during the duet, and they will continue to get to know one another and explore whether there is something between them through music. These are the beats that must remain central to the format’s core, according to Kim.
“The number of episodes the show consists of, the number of contestants that participate, the time allocated to each round, the activities, the competition the contestants face, these are all elements that can be and have been adapted in various versions,” Kim says. For example, the Vietnamese version consists of 14 episodes and focuses more on the studio part of the format, whereas the Malaysian version consists of five episodes, with the next five episodes coming for season two. The Korean version will consist of ten episodes and will maintain a fairly even balance between the reality and studio aspects. “The format is flexible and can be adapted to fit the needs of each market as long as it maintains the core elements,” says Kim.
And while details of the U.S. version are still under wraps, Kim does promise that “there will be more twists and turns that will create more drama and entertainment for all!”