Nick Smith, the executive VP of formats at all3media international, talks to TV Formats about the company’s strong non-scripted brands that are resonating with broadcasters and platforms amid the pandemic.
Since 2013, the Gogglebox format has given viewers a window into the living rooms of their neighbors, offering them the voyeuristic go-ahead to watch families and friends react to television shows and chat about the day’s current events. The meta concept, which first launched on Channel 4 in the U.K., has been adapted in 32 territories to date. It’s a title that Nick Smith, the executive VP of formats at all3media international, says that the company feels “even more blessed than normal to distribute” amid COVID-19.
“It’s the ultimate pandemic format, as it reflects what we are all doing much more of: sitting at home with our families watching television,” explains Smith, who notes that the format was commissioned, cast, produced and broadcast during the crisis by FOX in the U.S. (where it is called Celebrity Watch Party), as well as for its channel homes in the U.K., Finland, Poland and Australia. “The format was on air, and while other entertainment shows had to be pulled, Gogglebox continued and was able to accurately reflect and comment on the moods of the respective nations.”
Also proving adaptable for the COVID-19 era are studio-entertainment programs. “I’d suggest that is because producing in a contained environment is more manageable right now, and also, the viewing public want levity and escapism,” says Smith. “We’ve had a huge amount of interest in The Cube; it’s probably the only physical game-show format that can be produced right now.”
Overall, as the global pandemic continues to affect normal ways of doing business, the format industry has shown itself to be more than able to withstand the changed landscape. “We’re continuing to close deals for new adaptations of our formats and we have new commissions that are coming into our catalog,” Smith says. “Despite all the challenges, it’s been a good year for our format business.”
The format industry is further benefiting from streamers emerging as key clients for producers in the genre, with the platforms biting on concepts that ordinarily might not see the light of day. “It’s hard to imagine a linear network commissioning most of the streamers’ formatted shows off paper—in fact, a number of the formats were repeatedly turned down by linear broadcasters before being commissioned by streamers—and they’ve often been too big and expensive to be adapted in ten-plus territories,” Smith observes. “I’d argue that streamers are expanding the format industry, and while linear networks are competing with streamers, they’re not often competing over the rights to commission the same formats.”
Whether headed for a linear channel or streaming service, formats need to have a universally relatable concept at the core. “This is why formats with constructed worlds are among the best-selling formats,” Smith explains. “It’s possible to get audiences to buy into a game show, reality show or talent competition anywhere in the world. It’s trickier to create shows that do this in the real world.”
There are, however, a few notable exceptions on all3media international’s slate, namely Undercover Boss and Kitchen Nightmares. Addressing what makes both of them work across the global stage, Smith notes, “It’s pretty universal that big bosses are not really familiar with what it’s like to work at the bottom of their organization [and], having traveled quite extensively, I can tell you that there are ‘kitchen nightmares’ in restaurants all over the world.”
all3media international’s robust format catalog is expanding further with the new celebrity game show Head to Head, which has already launched in Sweden and Norway. The season is structured as a knock-out tournament, with the celebrities competing to be named champion. “The rounds are hilarious—it has a late-night chat show vibe—and unpredictable, as the game pool currently consists of 25 games, so viewers never know what is in store,” says Smith. There’s also the game show The Hustler, in which players answer questions for money while, along with the host and viewers, trying to identify the hustler. “The set is more Agatha Christie or Knives Outthan a typical game-show set and is completely addictive,” says Smith. “You have to watch until the end to find out who the hustler is.”