Strip Tease

Kristin Brzoznowski explores the market for high-volume formats that can be broadcast Monday to Friday in daytime or access slots.

No broadcaster can deny the allure of having a shiny-floor entertainment spectacle as an anchor for their weekly prime-time schedule—and most are willing to shell out for the hefty price for it. Budgets for daytime and access prime aren’t quite as generous, though, leaving buyers to look for cost-effective, high-volume programming to fill those slots. Formats that are stripped straight across the week, airing at the same time each day, can provide channels with the perfect solution, giving them a wealth of original content at a reasonable price point.

“Stripped programming continues to be really successful in the current television landscape,” says Vasha Wallace, the executive VP of global acquisitions and development at FremantleMedia, which is home to such megahit strips as The Price Is Right, To Tell the Truth, Let’s Make a Deal and Family Feud. “We see strong demand for it all around the world.”

Andrew Sime, the VP of formats at Banijay Rights, has seen the same. He believes that the recent rise in popularity for stripped formats might have to do with the fragmentation of the media landscape as well. “With the proliferation of platforms, channels have to do more with less. It’s harder for them to expect audiences to be familiar with the varying day-to-day schedules. When you’re a relatively small channel, it’s easier to make your mark by stripping key titles throughout the week so that your viewers always know exactly what they’re going to find when they come to you. They don’t have to worry about what day of the week it is; they know that at 7 o’clock they’ll find a certain program. That started with the cable channels. As that turned into a very successful marketing tactic and quite a successful way of building brand identity for a channel, some of the bigger terrestrial broadcasters have followed suit.”

A strong seller from the Banijay Rights catalog, Don’t Forget the Lyrics! started off as a big, weekly, prime-time million-dollar game show when it launched some ten years ago. Air Productions has since reimagined it in France as a 30-minute daily game. “Now, at 7 p.m. every day on France 2, there is one episode and at 7:30 p.m. there is a follow-up episode,” explains Sime. “That is five days a week, sometimes even seven, throughout the year. It’s one of the most popular shows on France 2; they often get audiences of more than 3 million viewers. If you want to follow the winner and see them staying on to find out if they’ll get beaten, you can. It rewards committed viewing, but equally, you can dip in and out of it. There’s no prerequisite that you had to have watched the episode before.”

Game shows are, indeed, cited by many format distributors as a top genre when selling strips.

“Game shows have the potential to work well on a daily basis in access prime,” says Amos Neumann, the COO of Armoza Formats. “They are strong enough and look good enough to be scheduled at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., rather than 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. Still Standing is on air in Spain and has been there for five years now on a daily basis; it is doing magnificently well. It does the same in Italy on a daily basis.”

“When it comes to access prime time, game shows are very much what channels are looking for,” agrees John Pollak, the president of worldwide television and international at Electus.

He points to Winsanity, which is going into its second season on GSN in the U.S. this fall, as one that fits the stripped programming model well. “We’ve had a lot of great traction on it internationally and have been able to launch it in a few markets recently. We’ve revamped the creative a bit in season two. We’ve turned it from a one-player game into a two-player game, and now it’s more of a competition between the two contestants. That has enhanced the show. I believe it’s what buyers internationally will be looking for when it comes to their potential needs.”

Global Agency’s founder and CEO, Izzet Pinto, says that formats in the areas of cooking, style and dating do particularly well as strips. “Reality shows that have a theme of relationships or weddings work perfectly each day because it becomes like an unscripted telenovela,” he adds.

“If you look at our biggest sales, it has been the stripped programs,” Pinto says. “For example, one of Global Agency’s biggest hits is Shopping Monsters, which is a stripped program. It has been selling for the last six years, and every year we have seen an increase in the number of territories and number of episodes. Stripped programs have been the best revenue-generating ones. If you look at the last 18 months, again it’s a stripped format, My Wife Rules, that is selling very well. It is an important type of format for us.”

When you think about formats and the idea of stripping them in a schedule, it all started with the game show, according to Arabelle Pouliot-Di Crescenzo, the managing director at KABO International. “Game shows were in access prime, and the American broadcasters were doing it. They saw amazing success, so it went around the world,” dictating programming trends in many markets.

KABO, though, has been stripping scripted comedies since the beginning of the company—and doing so very successfully. The flagship format Our Crazy Family just wrapped its sixth season and is stripped Monday to Friday in access prime time. “The ratings have increased every season,” notes Pouliot-Di Crescenzo.

“A lot of countries are going for games that are stripped, or, in daytime, court shows that are stripped or scripted reality. For KABO and M6, which develop shows together, the idea was to do counter-programming. The main channels, like TF1, have the news on [leading into prime time]. The idea was to counter-program with stripped sketch comedy produced as a half-hour. It has been very successful.”

Pouliot-Di Crescenzo says that for Our Crazy Family, as well as other scripted KABO comedies, access prime time is ideal for stripped scheduling. “It’s popular for that demographic of moms making dinner at home since it’s the kind of programming the whole family can watch together.”

Armoza’s Neumann also points to access prime as the hot slot but says that it really depends on the type of show. “For daytime, the content will be more lifestyle and be stripped on a day-to-day basis. The same show can air five times a week in daytime without needing closure at the end of it. When you have a larger audience, as you do in access prime, the demands are higher, so you have to provide them with a more distinctive story throughout the week.”

Largely, though, strips can move around the schedule with a great amount of flexibility. Hat Trick International, for example, has seen the format Dinner Date air in daytime, prime time and access prime time. The show, which combines the popular genres of cooking and dating, features standalone episodes, with new singles introduced in each. “Dinner Date doesn’t only play as a strip; it can play weekly as well,” says Sarah Tong, the company’s director of sales.

For producers, it can pose a somewhat tricky twist to take a prime-time show and turn it into a strip—or vice versa. “It’s something we talk about a lot when we’re launching shows, in terms of the flexibility of the format,” says FremantleMedia’s Wallace. “Many formats do lend themselves to both. When you’re making something into a daily, though, what’s really important is that you can create a lot of volume. That volume has got to be cost-effective.”

She cites as an example the show Who Lives Here?, which has been airing in Sweden for multiple seasons in prime time with a one-hour version. In each episode, five strangers tour each other’s homes together and try to work out who lives where. The format was licensed into Norway as a daily and received a more budget-friendly structure, with three people looking around four homes, one of which is a red herring.

Wallace has also seen cases where a strip can move into prime time. Family Feud runs as a daily with everyday people playing for the prize pot, while the weekly prime-time version features celebrities playing to have fun and win money for charity.

“In Portugal, they have a real history of doing dailies,” says Wallace. “Portugal is a small country; the broadcasters don’t have big budgets. So normally when they commission a show, they’ll have the daily version and then they have the big Friday night prime-time show. You get both—a daily series and a big event piece with whiz-and-bang entertainment and higher production values behind it.”

KABO’s daily stripped Our Crazy Family format has also been taken into prime time. In addition to the daily access-prime show, which features short comedy sketches, there are now hour-long episodes for peak slots that have a proper storyline with a beginning, middle and end. “It’s like an extension of the brand,” says Pouliot-Di Crescenzo.

Broadcasters and audiences have really taken to this style of daily comedy as it’s “more modern” than a weekly sitcom, Pouliot-Di Crescenzo says. “You’re constantly checking in with these characters. It’s similar to binge-watching. These characters are very identifiable; they’re living a parallel life to yours. You can watch them every day. You may miss part of the story, but then you’re sucked right back into it the next day.”

Richer storytelling is but one of the gifts that a stripped show affords. “When you do a strip, you can have more emotions, more details and way more stories, with many characters,” says Global Agency’s Pinto. “That’s why stripped programming works so well; people get hooked on the program.” And what broadcaster doesn’t covet viewer loyalty?

“Once you have your audience coming on Monday, they want to see what happens on Tuesday, and they have to see the closure at the end of the week,” says Armoza’s Neumann. “It’s a captive audience; if they start, they want to finish.”

Costs are certainly another key benefit, among a myriad of others, when it comes to daily strips. “It’s inexpensive compared to prime-time programming,” says Electus’s Pollak. “Being spread over as many episodes as a broadcaster can do, there are economies of scale that you can take advantage of. That’s probably the number one selling point for people on the financial side.”

Banijay Rights’ Undressed format, which has been licensed into a slew of markets as a strip, is one that easily allows for multiple episodes to be filmed in one day. Same with Tipping Point, which has been a daily ratings hit in the U.K. “The production team is very experienced now after the many years of doing this, and they can produce a lot of episodes back to back,” says Sime. “You get savings in terms of the amount of time needed to have the crew present, as well as the host and contestants. You see savings in how much access you need to the studio and to equipment. The average cost per episode collapses if you can film in high volume like this.”

Hat Trick’s new game-show format Cheap Cheap Cheap films an average of three episodes in a day, according to Tong. “With something like Win It Cook It, they were filming two a day,” she adds. “All your costs come down!”

FremantleMedia’s Wallace agrees that for a broadcaster, strips provide good value for their money. “It also delivers a lot for the brands that are working with the channels,” she says.

Sponsorship and advertising propositions abound when you have a strong food-themed format on daily, for example. “Cooking can be fantastic as a strip, especially in shoulder-peak slots,” says Wallace. “If a viewer is at home during that time of day, often they’re looking after their children, cooking dinner, trying to tidy up the house—they are multitasking, and they have the television on, so they need something that’s quite accessible. It can’t be too overcomplicated in a way that something can be that you’d sit down to watch with a glass of wine at 9 o’clock in a much more civilized environment. Accessibility is really important in those slots, and you see that with cooking shows, game shows and reality shows.”

Producers working on stripped formats also need to be sure that they’re putting together relatively uniform episodes, says Banijay’s Sime. “It’s hard if you have a Tuesday episode that is in some way structurally different from the Wednesday episode. There has got to be a certain amount of familiarity. You’ve got to respect that structure. It’s not good enough to simply take a one-hour show and try to stretch content across five days.”

Sime also cautions against scaling the production back too far. “While you are looking for an economical solution, there could also be a temptation to put subpar, lower-quality content out there. You’ve got to resist that urge. Even though it’s stripped, and it’s high volume, viewers have high expectations.”

Global Agency’s Pinto has some other tips that producers should keep in mind when working on a stripped show. For one, he says, it is very important to leave a bit of curiosity in the finale of each episode so that viewers need to know what happens the following day.

“Often, stripped programming will focus on different contestants each run, so you have to give an overview of the participants each day so that the viewers can get to know them, see which one they feel closest to and want to watch them the whole week. It’s all about the storytelling, and the drama should be produced very carefully.”

Pinto says he’s seen growing interest for strips coming out of Central and Eastern Europe as of late, and that Latin America is in his sights. As LatAm viewers are already used to the daily viewing pattern of the telenovela, stripped formats should be a natural fit. Global Agency’s daily cooking competition My Wife Rules is going on air in Brazil, and Pinto believes that will help to spur other countries in the region to sign on as well.

Electus’s Pollak names Australia as a country that has “mastered” this type of format scheduling. Indeed, MasterChef Australia airs five nights a week, from Sunday to Thursday, on Network Ten. My Kitchen Rules, which has seen upwards of 320 episodes on Seven Network, also does daily runs.

“The Australians love stripped formats in prime time,” notes Hat Trick’s Tong, “whereas it would be very unusual in the U.K. to have a stripped format in that slot.”

In surveying the global demand, FremantleMedia’s Wallace says that stripped formats are working in nearly every market currently. “It’s a very healthy business,” she says. “Strips deliver value for money to the broadcaster, and viewers really like these kinds of shows; they’re very responsive to them.”

Pictured: Banijay Rights’ Undressed.