Red Arrow’s Michael Schmidt

Michael Schmidt, Red Arrow’s chief creative officer, talks to TV Formats about how the group’s companies collaborate to create ideas that can be easily adapted across multiple markets.

With 19 production companies in seven countries and an international distribution arm, the Red Arrow Entertainment Group offers the worldwide market a variety of programming, including bold social-experiment formats like Married at First Sight and Kiss Bang Love.

TV FORMATS: How do you work with the various Red Arrow production entities to identify shows and ideas that have the potential to travel?
SCHMIDT: First, it is obviously in our production companies’ interest to come up with shows that travel, but we do not approve or disapprove their slate—they work very independently, with their local opportunities in mind. That said, they trust us to provide guidance on format beats, international potential and coordination across the group. We are constantly having creative conversations about shows across all 19 production companies and help with funding and making international connections. Of course we especially know what the German ProSiebenSat.1 stations need, but we also have a global outlook. It could be that a Danish idea first works better in the U.S. or vice versa.

One thing that has been crucial since the very beginning of Red Arrow is that we don’t put our partners into silos—they always have their creative freedom. We encourage them to be as independent and as local as possible, and I think their broadcast clients see and respect that. If you build such a great group of production companies, you must make sure that they sell shows successfully and that you don’t get in the way by restricting their playground.

TV FORMATS: Did the U.S. version of Married at First Sight, which airs on A&E/FYI, require a lot of adapting or extra production values compared to the original versions of those formats?
SCHMIDT: If you ask FYI and A&E, I think they would say they bought the show as it is because that’s what attracted them to the format in the first place. It’s a very clear format that speaks of a universal problem, and there was not much adaptation needed. Of course they made it work in their own brand world if you look at the graphics and music, for example. But overall they stuck to the book.

In general, I have a very open approach to adaptation because we all want a format to work on the channel we sold it to. I have been a buyer for half of my professional life, and given that let’s say Danish taste is different from American, you need to make changes. And I am respectful of that. At the same time, it is good if you have a partner who listens and respects your experience. I haven’t yet experienced a U.S. partner who is not respectful of the original idea and the experience we bring to a show. They, in part, buy a format with assurances that it has worked somewhere else and that there are reasons why it worked.

TV FORMATS: What have been your priorities and goals since setting up the New York office?
SCHMIDT: Since Red Arrow generates over 70 percent of its revenues in the U.S., being closer to the U.S. production companies is the main driver for us having an office here. Today, nine American companies are part of Red Arrow, and just by the volume of shows and talent here in the U.S., it is the creative hub of the TV world. It is important for us to be in constant exchange with our production companies on development and to identify interesting properties in early stages to have a good chance of retaining rights and rolling the show out around the world.

Also, a presence on the ground ensures we are close to the U.S. creative community and able to forge new partnerships. We also have shows in our portfolio that run with other American partners and we are constantly looking to grow our creative partnerships. The U.S. is a great place to do that.

TV FORMATS: Social experiments are proving to be quite successful. What are the keys to getting them right?
SCHMIDT: Casting. And you only get the casting right if you have the proposition of the experiment right. The most important part to us is that the participants can trust us. If you take Married at First Sight, the secret sauce clearly is that the decisions are not being made by the producer or by the channel but that the story finds its authentic way. The channel needs to trust the show and the concept, that there will be enough engaging content for the viewers to attach themselves to the show and the cast. If you have that right, you will get the right cast, a cast with honest objectives and the right emotions for doing the show.

TV FORMATS: What kinds of creative partnerships are you looking for at the moment?
SCHMIDT: I am always looking for partnerships with people who are able to come up with an idea, go out, pitch it, and set it up on their own, no matter where in the world. I am interested in finding partners who work very independently and have a clear concept of how to realize their ideas. People with a collaborative mindset who fit into the corporate and creative culture of Red Arrow. These are perfect partners for us.