NATPE Budapest Session Examines Format Trends


BUDAPEST: Executives from ITV Studios, Endemol Shine Group, Armoza Formats, Modern Times Group (MTG) and Global Screen discussed what’s working, and what’s not, in regard to global formats during a session this morning at NATPE Budapest.

The session began by highlighting the overall health of the format market at present. “We’re seeing that advertisers are still putting cash into TV as a traditional advertising model—the TV business is healthy,” said Pascal Dalton, regional sales director for formats in CEE at Endemol Shine Group. “Within the [Central and Eastern European] region as a whole, broadcasters are investing in prime-time weekly entertainment shows. We’re also seeing at the moment that prime-time slots during the week are opening up, which is a new development over the last year or so. It’s a great, exciting time to be involved in this business.”

Dalton noted a trend toward shiny-floor entertainment among CEE buyers and that daily reality is also going strong. “The nice thing is that some of our clients are experimenting a little bit now,” he added, noting that the format One Born Every Minute was commissioned for a first run in the region.

Barbara Vallant, sales and acquisitions manager for formats at Global Screen, said that in Germany science-entertainment shows have been popular. For example, Galileo, a daily science-entertainment magazine, has had more than 4,000 episodes on air in the country. “We also have rogue antique shows that are very popular,” she added. “They’ve been airing since 1985 on local channels in Germany, and since 2013 ZDF has started airing in their daily slot at 3 p.m. the same kind of show; it’s been doing very well.” Vallant also noted that cooking remains a TV staple in the country, as do game shows and quiz shows.

Amos Neumann, the COO of Armoza Formats, highlighted the “rise of scripted.” He explained that scripted formats are seeing a resurgence, “especially when we’re talking about co-productions and different territories creating things together for the international market.” He also pointed out a trend of “doing things in a more extreme way…. The audience is tired of the old stuff and are looking for something to wake them up when they watch TV at night.”

Merrily Ross, MTG’s VP of formats and content development, echoed the sentiment about scripted being in demand. She added, “What’s working is still the old-school [formats], the old brigade: The X Factor, Your Face Sounds Familiar. These shows remain strong for us, and there’s nothing coming up biting at them. We’re not getting rid of them because they still get huge ratings.” Ross said that factual and factual entertainment are gaining momentum though for mid-week prime slots.

Mike Beale, the executive VP of global development and formats at ITV Studios, agreed that what has worked in the past is actually still working today. “We’re seeing more renewals of existing [formats] than we are licensing of new shows. We’re seeing shows that have proven track records, that have been successful in their existing territory or multiple territories because advertisers want stability in a schedule.” He added that a lot of broadcasters are now working to create new local content to put around the big format brands that continue to play well and “use the tent-poles to support the new ones.”

Beale said that what’s failing in the marketplace is formats that are “pushing the envelope too far and trying to be too extreme.” He said that the formats that are going to be successful in the coming years are ones that may not have “smashed it out of the park on their first try, but have had time to grow in one, two or three territories.”

“We won’t commission anything unless we see a second season in it,” said Ross. She noted that for shows that are too extreme or too out there (pointing in particular to the recent trend of nudity in TV formats) “you don’t really want them as a broadcaster because it’s a one-hit wonder.” Ross mentioned Married at First Sight as a format that MTG took a risk on that paid off. “We’re going to come back with it [for new seasons]. It’s a risky format, but not totally risky because we can do second seasons of it and it was proven already when we did it.”

Neumann brought up the topic of risk-taking among buyers. “Broadcasters are really not happy with taking risks,” he said. “Sometimes when you have a good show, maybe even a very good show, but it didn’t [perform] tremendously in its season, they will not continue to second season. They won’t give it a chance because they have so much to prove. The ratings are chasing them and they have to be accountable for that. That’s not a very good sign for this industry. There will never be ‘the next big thing’ if you won’t do three seasons. If you quit after season one, it won’t work.”

Dalton weighed in on whether broadcasters are too risk-averse or whether they are simply not getting pitched enough good risky ideas. “Responsibility is on both sides of the business, for broadcasters to take risks and for companies like Endemol Shine to make great content.” He admitted that there is an “atmosphere of stagnation” at the moment, “but if you create great content, a broadcaster will take a risk on it. An example of that is social-experiment shows.” He highlighted Hunted, which Channel 4 took a risk on in the U.K. and it has since started to travel quite quickly.

Vallant added that in Germany the bigger channels “are more risk-averse because there’s more at stake. Smaller channels such as the regional channels are more willing to take chances.” Especially on the scripted side, she noted, new channels want to move forward with local production and take more risks.

In examining what’s ahead for the format market, Beale spoke about the quest for the elusive “next big thing” that everyone has been chasing. “It’s cyclical,” he said. “If you look back at the four defining formats that all came out within 18 months of each other—Big Brother, Survivor, Millionaire and Pop Stars—they set the trend for the next 20 years. We’re still in that trend of talent shows and big-scale quiz, and survival is being refreshed. Before that, we had lived with 20 or 30 years of great American game shows. We’re now due. It’s a bit like the San Andreas Fault; it’s about to go at any time!”

Beale offered a piece of advice: “Don’t try to create the next big thing; that is a sure way to make a big pudding of a format that just doesn’t work. If you try to make it work everywhere, it’s not going to work anywhere. Make it work in your territory, make it a success, and then it will come back for a second or third season and another territory will pick it up. Distributors keep trying to say, ‘This is the next big thing.’ We’ve got to stop doing that. All we’re doing is muddying the market, and people get frustrated when it clearly isn’t.”