Navigating the Challenges & Opportunities of Paper Formats

In an industry that loves a track record, getting a paper format over with broadcasters can be a bit of a challenge. But, the rewards in launching a brand-new original concept that goes on to become a global success can be immense.

“While it is always true that a proven format is easier to promote and sell, we find that most broadcasters are very open to paper format pitches,” says Sophie Ferron, president and executive producer at Media Ranch. “It’s a great feeling to be the first to put a new hit show on the air. Everyone wants to make a game-changing discovery. We see ourselves as leaders of a newer trend for distributors to be involved in pre-development and ideation. We continue to grow our format incubator and impressive paper format catalog, and broadcasters are responding.” Media Ranch’s format Watch!, for example, was optioned from paper in 12 territories in just a few months.

Can Okan, founder and CEO of Inter Medya, admits that most broadcasters are hesitant to try something that has not been done before. “Instead of paper formats, they are more open to shows with proven success. If the format is previously broadcast, it gives them the advantage of targeting certain audiences and maximizing their resources when it comes to planning and designing.”

Nadav Palti, president and CEO of Dori Media Group, agrees: “Selling paper formats is difficult, and clients are not very open to them. Today, compared to the past, it is getting even more difficult. For a client, buying a paper format means increasing the risk. Therefore, clients prefer to buy a title with a proven track record of success.”

When they do buy a paper format, though, clients tend to request a partnership in the profit and distribution rights, Palti says. “In general, the preference is for proven formats but it really depends on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a broadcaster is looking specifically for a particular type of genre, they are more willing to consider paper formats. In addition, there are more proven formats these days than in the past. So, if a broadcaster has to pick between a paper and a proven format, it is more likely they will pick the latter and reduce the risk taken.”

The clients that are more open to paper formats are those that can handle the bigger risks, he adds, meaning ones that are stronger financially, usually the biggest broadcasters and/or larger territories. “For this to happen, the paper formats need to be sold by a very well-known, strong-positioned distributor or producers that clients have faith in and that have past proven track records. Paper formats that have complete bibles are also easier to sell.”

Media Ranch’s Ferron has a similar view on the broadcasters and markets most willing to take a chance on a paper pitch. She says, “Larger markets are more open to it because there is more room to take risks. So far, it has been great working on paper with Germany, France and the U.S., among others.”

Izzet Pinto, the founder and CEO of Global Agency, points to Russia, Ukraine, Poland and CIS territories as being more open, along with certain territories in Asia like Thailand and Vietnam. “Sometimes we offer IP share to make it more attractive,” he adds. “If the idea is good, sooner or later, someone sees the potential success behind it, takes a gamble and they can win big.”

This was the case with The Remix, which Global Agency represents in the international market. “That was a paper format from India; written on a word document,” Pinto says. “Years later it became an Amazon original in India. Then it was nominated as one of the four best formats around the world for the International Emmy Awards.”

Quiz shows and studio-based game shows are highlighted by Inter Medya’s Okan as faring best for landing a commission from paper. “Since they have certain rules, they are much more applicable on TV and it’s less likely for the broadcaster to encounter any kind of unexpected surprises,” he says. On the other hand, reality shows have a mechanism that is not fixed, hence why they usually bring more surprises.”

Media Ranch’s Ferron also points to game shows or shows with competition elements. “They are clearer in terms of format structure and show mechanics, so they pop off the page with more ease. Buyers can picture those shows in their minds. After that, I would say reality/dating and lifestyle because they tend to be relatable.”

Dori Media’s catalog contains over 100 titles, including paper formats. “When we distribute a paper format, it is after evaluating its potential deeply and when we really believe in its strength and capacity to work and to be adapted in the different territories,” Palti says. “Despite the difficulty, our strategy is to never close the door on a good idea, because you never know where the new big hit can be born.” From Dori Media’s slate, Smart Face, a trivia game show, began as a paper format, and in two years from the launch, over 2,000 episodes were sold. Intuition, a street game show, was sold to a few territories.

“We have a number of paper formats that we’ve developed with our creative team, and we are always open to new ideas coming from creatives around the world,” says Inter Medya’s Okan. “If we see any broadcasting potential, we are always happy to develop the show with the creators.” The Box Challenge, for one, is a game show developed by Inter Medya’s in-house production team.

“It is no coincidence that we started a format incubator,” says Media Ranch’s Ferron. “We are always willing to look at paper and give people a chance. Unscripted TV ideas can come from the most unlikely places. Not all companies can excel at creating paper formats. It works for us because we chose to focus on in-house creation and IP ownership, and assembled a team around those goals. We have a strong track record and built a collaborative space for world-class writers to create. We have combined our development skills, production background and business acumen to become more than a distribution company. Paper formats are key to our success and our growth as an international format hub.”