Media Ranch Incubates Next Generation of Format Hits

Sophie Ferron, founder, president and executive director of Media Ranch, talks to TV Formats about the company’s successful format incubator Horsepower, which has returned for a third edition.

Media Ranch’s successful format incubator Horsepower has returned for a third edition, aimed at creating exportable unscripted TV formats from French Canada. “There is great satisfaction in working with new talent, taking risks with ideas, brainstorming and spending each week being creative,” says Ferron. “That is what motivates us! Great ideas are coming out of these workshops. The international success that we have had with the Horsepower formats is really the icing on the cake and proves that a high-concept idea, well developed—even by an unknown talent—can find a home.”

Ferron has been exceedingly pleased to have secured four deals for previous Horsepower shows. The first Horsepower winning format, Family Tripped, created by An Tran, was optioned by Quebecor Content for development. The dating format Heartbreak Hotel, the winner of Horsepower 2.0 created by Isabelle Laperrière, was acquired by FormatEast (an SBS Korea subsidiary) for Asian development and distribution, and Quebecor Content is also co-developing the show with Media Ranch for Canada. “One of our HP formats is currently in a confidential co-development agreement with an American broadcaster, and we also have an HP format titled House Party that was co-developed with Ubisoft in France, associated with their megahit Just Dance,” she adds.

Quebecor Content returned as a partner for Horsepower 3.0, after having been on board for the first two iterations. The third edition also sees new partners La Fabrique des Formats, an innovation and training cluster in the format field, and France’s TF1 joining the project for the first time. “We are thrilled to be adding powerhouse broadcaster TF1, France’s most popular network, and France-based La Fabrique des Formats, renowned format experts,” Ferron says. “Both of those institutions are leaders in formats and provide even more opportunity for our participants. The goal for all formats is to be adapted in multiple territories, so having jury members and mentors outside Canada makes sense. We are excited to continue working with Quebecor, which has been an integral part of this since its inception, and are eager to share workshop and jury duty and increase the chance for the incubated projects to launch wider.”

While last years’ Horsepower experience had to wrap up virtually, this year will be the first time it is 100 percent virtual. “On the one hand, it’s a bit of a challenge to speak and engage for hours at a time on video, and the bonds created in-person are harder to replicate,” says Ferron. “However, it also allows us to take on participants from outside Montreal and reach more people. We found our groove at the end of the last session and are certain that this year will go smoothly.”

The incubation process includes four months of intense workshopping with the goal to create trained expertise in Québec. By the end of the process, eight fresh, exportable unscripted formats will be ready for distribution. Media Ranch’s Philip Kalin-Hajdu, head of content and storytelling, will provide mentorship support for the project with input from the company’s Amsterdam-based senior VP, Tanja van der Goes, and Ferron. In addition to the mentors, both Quebecor and TF1 will give workshops. The winning format will receive co-development funding from Quebecor Content and TF1, and Media Ranch will manage production and global distribution. Formats created by remaining candidates may also be developed and distributed.

“As with every session, we are hoping to foster expertise in formats, which is not as common as one would think,” Ferron says. “We are also community-building and creating a group of long-term collaborators. We hope that the formats that come out of the incubator will get produced and shine a light on Quebecois talent.”

She adds that it’s not only important for the format business but all creative industries to encourage new talent and new ideas. “From talent competitions to dating shows and social experiments, formats reflect who we are,” Ferron says. “They unify us and illustrate the commonality between each country and territory in the world. Emerging talent often creates without the cynicism of ‘what sells’ or ‘what’s trending’ and go straight to the heart of the matter: ‘What do I want to see and what reflects me.’ That’s where the magic happens.”