Sony Pictures Television’s Laura St Clair

The hit Shark Tank/Dragons’ Den franchise recently notched up a milestone 50th version, giving further proof that tried-and-tested formats with nostalgia are going from strength to strength. Laura St Clair, VP of international formats at Sony Pictures Television, shares her view on the value of familiarity but also the need to innovate.

TV FORMATS: What is working best in the entertainment landscape currently?
ST CLAIR: The appetite for great formats has never been stronger, and this is broadening the horizons of commissioners. We’re always looking for those big entertainment ideas that bring audiences in, and we’re really delighted to see that there are green shoots of new shows coming through off the back of a slew of successful shows like The FloorThe 1% ClubThe Traitors and Squid Game. Unscripted and game-show formats have proven mass-audience appeal across multiple platforms and can organically generate those iconic TV moments, which cross over and go viral on social media—the 21st-century “watercooler”—and become part of our day-to-day conversation.

Everyone acknowledges, though, that nostalgia just works really well, and we have some fantastic shows in our SPT catalog that people have a long-standing familiarity with and deep affinity for. We are always looking to innovate formats where possible to keep the shows fresh and give them a new lease of life. We have seen that happen in recent years with brands from Raid the Cage to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den franchise.

TV FORMATS: Are you seeing more commissioning for prime time versus daytime?
ST CLAIR: It does differ from market to market. There are some markets, such as the U.K., where there is an extremely healthy daytime commissioning culture, especially around quizzes and game shows.

But we are mainly focused on helping our broadcast partners fill prime-time slots, and for that, they want mass-audience, mass-appeal shows. We always have that in the back of our minds, even with our daytime formats. Take Raid the Cage as an example: We have developed a prime-time version to work in the U.S. as a prime-time network show, but the original version is more cost-effective and easier to scale for a high volume of episodes, so it can be more easily commissioned outside prime-time slots. It’s about being flexible with our formats so that they can work in different slots. The same goes for the Pyramid game; we have developed it to work in both prime time and daytime.

TV FORMATS: How risk-averse is the current market?
ST CLAIR: Despite some great breakout fresh new formats over the last few years, it’s well documented that in major markets, tried-and-tested is doing really well at the moment, but you always have to bring something new and fresh. No matter what you’re doing, you can’t assume a show will work somewhere just because it may have worked there before; you have to think about how you will refresh the elements, how the tone and execution changes and how to give it a fresh spin in some way. So, broadcasters are much more thoughtful about risk-taking, whether it’s a brand-new format or a fresh take on a familiar brand. It’s incumbent on all of us to continually take risks and adapt to the needs of the market.

TV FORMATS: What’s guiding Sony’s formats strategy at present?
ST CLAIR: Innovation, nostalgia and familiarity are three of the overarching tenets of our current strategy. It’s an exciting balance between leaning into the brands and formats people know and love and keeping them fresh, invigorated and localized to each market.

But there are also fresh innovations. We’re actively developing and piloting some new unscripted IP, which we’re incredibly excited about, including The Chosen Ten from our Northern Ireland production company Stellify Media. We unveiled The Chosen Ten for the first time to clients at Sony Pictures Television’s London TV Screenings showcase, and the reaction was fantastic.

We also have new shows like Thanks a Million, which was originally a Roku series that we have redeveloped for a free-to-air broadcaster, and our first adaptation of Game Show Network’s long-running success America Says, which launched last year on TV8 in Turkey. We also struck our first deal for the legendary So You Think You Can Dance format, refreshed for season 18 on FOX in the U.S. Warner Bros. International Television Production will option the format across the Nordics and Benelux region, which is exciting.

TV FORMATS: What are some of Sony’s format slate stalwarts still going strong, and what do the recommissions or relaunches say about what audiences and channels are looking for?
ST CLAIR: The stalwarts on our slate are Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank franchise; even with multiple decades under their belts, they really are going stronger than ever. For the Dragons’ Den franchise, we have seen a huge amount of interest over the past few years, with brand-new audiences in different parts of the world coming to it for the first time. We recently announced that the franchise has just passed the milestone 50th version worldwide when it launches in Bangladesh in the spring, and it’s already under license to go into production in Pakistan, Nepal and other territories we’re hoping to announce soon.

Audiences are very sophisticated these days; they’re very attuned to when they are being patronized. Recommissions and relaunches are hallmarks of a great format, but you can’t just regurgitate a format and expect the audience to accept it. Our refreshed, big dance format that comes out of Sony Pictures’ nonfiction division, So You Think You Can Dance, launched its 18th season on FOX and leans into the authenticity of this show’s role in providing a life-changing opportunity for talented dancers that will appeal to traditional viewers and attract new fans. As well as the stalwarts, we have the Pyramid game, Raid the CageThe Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, all titles on our international slate that originate from Sony’s vast library of game-show IP, which we have active deals on around the world. We’re very lucky to have an incredible array of shows in our catalog.

TV FORMATS: Where do you see the bright spots, the reasons for optimism, in 2024 and into 2025?
ST CLAIR: Audiences still want to be entertained. Unscripted and game-show formats present great opportunities across multiple platforms—not just FTA, but SVOD, AVOD and even cable channels—to bring audiences in. The powers of unscripted and game-show formats are real emotions, real people and real situations. When you lean into that, and when that connects with an audience, that’s when you get really iconic TV moments that jump out.

We are incredibly busy at the moment, from redeveloping shows to engage with fresh audiences to creating brand-new future heritage brands like The Chosen Ten.

We all read the headlines about challenges within the industry and the wider economic landscape, and while we sometimes have to adapt to the challenges of how we make shows, we know that the audiences are out there and hungry for great new content. That’s a great reason to be optimistic, isn’t it?