Tim Gerhartz, the president and managing director of Red Arrow Studios International, talks to TV Formats about the Married at First Sight‘s success and the value of having a megabrand in the catalog.
Having traveled to more than 30 countries to date, Married at First Sight is an undisputed format success. The show has become a channel-defining brand in many markets and spawned spin-offs and add-ons that are keeping viewers engaged with fresh content.
TV FORMATS: What’s your view on the mega-formats in prime time: Do you see some of their staying power starting to wane, or are they still going strong?
GERHARTZ: The importance and power of mega-formats are increasing. We’ve seen that specifically throughout recent months, as broadcasters are sticking to what worked prior to Covid-19 and during Covid-19. So having a mega-format in place is definitely helpful these days, and I don’t see why platforms would want to change their strategies when it comes to mega-formats.
When you talk about mega-formats in the case of Red Arrow, we’re speaking about Married at First Sight, which we launched in 2013. The format has traveled into more than 30 countries since then. It turned from a successful show into a channel-defining brand. That’s what I would consider a mega-format. It does a really good job, and it’s even increasing in significance.
TV FORMATS: Tell us about the successful spin-offs and add-ons supporting the brand.
GERHARTZ: That’s the beauty of a mega-format: You don’t only have a successful show, you turn it into a brand. You reach a point that when people talk about the show, they immediately have the platform in mind, and the other way around; when they talk about the platform, they have the brand in mind. In the case of Married at First Sight, good examples would be Nine Network in Australia, the U.S. with Lifetime and the U.K. with Channel 4. The channels not only show the main local version on the main channel, they also offer to the audience on secondary channels spin-offs and add-ons that are based on the original format. And then, in order to push their VOD platforms and extend their catch-up platforms, they acquire foreign tapes to offer even more of the brand to the audience.
It’s not just a show anymore; it’s a brand that offers so many exploitation opportunities across all platforms and all ways of exploitation, not to forget ancillaries, merchandising, etc. That’s what keeps the brand and show exciting, and that’s what makes it so valuable to the platforms and to us [as distributors].
TV FORMATS: Walk me through some of the tweaks that have been made to keep the format fresh season after season.
GERHARTZ: It’s key to find a fresh angle every now and then. All the broadcasters and production partners are working on finding new angles, adding bits and pieces here and there, finding twists and tweaks. The best example would be the U.S., where the main show consistently stayed with the original version and the original idea. But the spin-offs and add-ons offered to the audience content on top of what they knew from the main show. The spin-off Married at First Sight: Unmatchables picks up on all those protagonists and participants who were not matchable, so to say, and hence couldn’t show up on the main show. It’s a show based on the show, but it includes a bit of behind-the-scenes elements, which is a great extension for the brand. We also saw an add-on, [Married at First Sight: Couples’ Cam], where while the pandemic was at an all-time high, previous cast members shot their own diaries from their homes and reported on how they went through lockdowns and the whole situation. It was a great add-on that fit the situation and to the original format. There are many ways to do it, and we see that trend of coming up with spin-offs and add-ons just starting. We’ll see great results out of that in the next years.
TV FORMATS: Are knowledge and best practices shared among producers of various local versions?
GERHARTZ: That’s a core part of what we do; that’s the purpose of a distributor. Our job is to turn ideas into programs and to turn programs into deals, and that applies to the format business. It’s our job to make sure it travels but also to make sure that all the knowledge and experiences and everything [production-wise] goes back into the bible and to the team in order to support our production partners throughout the world and get the maximum out of the brand and the format.
TV FORMATS: What do you see as the keys to longevity for a format?
GERHARTZ: Nowadays, a format has to have a [concept with a] purpose. It’s not enough to just have a funny show or entertaining show. The show needs a purpose; it must be immediately obvious why the audience wants to watch it. You can call it relevance or purpose, mixed with simplicity. Overproduced and over-constructed shows are hard to sell these days. This might be a Covid-driven thing, but scalability has been a key element in recent months to make shows work and travel.
TV FORMATS: Why is it still important to reinvigorate even the strongest format brands from time to time?
GERHARTZ: You have to keep it fresh for the audience. Especially for the established platforms, it’s important to continuously deliver to the audience what they expect from the brands, but you also have to offer fresh angles and surprise the audience with something new. Especially in times when hundreds of new platforms and offerings become available to the audience, the mix of a consistent slate of shows with fresh takes is key.
TV FORMATS: Looking ahead and assessing the marketplace, do you foresee broadcasters continuing to stick with and refresh mega-brands or retiring some to make way for brand-new concepts?
GERHARTZ: There’s always room for brand-new concepts if they’re really convincing. At the moment, it’s key for broadcasters to work with what does well for them. It’s important for them to extend on that success, but then again, they need to come up with something fresh. An example is Stealing the Show! On the one side, it’s a classic quiz genre: four contestants trying to win a prize. In this show, it’s not about winning cash or being the smartest person in the room, it’s about actually winning the show. The contestant who wins in the episode hosts the show in the next episode. That’s something you haven’t seen before. It’s a megahit! It’s a huge success on ProSieben in Germany and ratings are building in season two, even better than season one. That’s what I mean when I say that proof of concept with a fresh twist gets people excited.
The beauty of the show is that even though it’s the same format, hence scalable, each episode feels different since, depending on who wins, the show will be different. The contestants are celebrities but they’re not always [hosting] professionals. In the German version, you see a very famous actor who is a brilliant actor and well known from feature films. It turns out, he absolutely struggles to host a quiz show. That’s what makes it so entertaining; each episode is a little bit different and has a different taste and style. It makes the show even more interesting from episode to episode.