Red Arrow Studios International’s Tim Gerhartz

As the London TV Screenings kick off this week, Red Arrow Studios International is gearing up to launch Stranded on Honeymoon Island to its clients across the globe. Set to be showcased at an event this week, Stranded on Honeymoon Island is the latest dating format from Snowman Productions, the outfit behind Married at First Sight, one of many megaformats in the Red Arrow Studios International stable. Tim Gerhartz, president and managing director of Red Arrow Studios International, shares with TV Formats his perspective on the trends shaping the non-scripted entertainment landscape today.

TV FORMATS: How has the formats segment rebounded following the early days of Covid?
GERHARTZ: The formats business was one of the first to slow down when Covid hit, but it was also one of the first to quickly respond and kick off again. It’s an adaptable and flexible genre as you can quickly stop and start production; you can easily change elements or adjust the volume as needed or to suit demand. The formats business is currently healthy and robust, especially because many new platforms are showing a strong interest in formats, particularly reality TV and social experiments.

TV FORMATS: Are dating and social experiments still the most in-demand genres?
GERHARTZ: Yes, dating and social experiments are still popular genres. For example, our long-running hit show Married at First Sight continues to go from strength to strength as broadcasters including Channel 4 (U.K.), Lifetime (U.S.) and Nine Network (Australia) supersize their offerings of the show. During Covid especially, many channels realized they could turn Married at First Sight into a megabrand with spin-offs and additional tapes of other international versions. We even have a couple of countries that had two separate versions on air at the same time; RTL in the Netherlands has a more traditional version on the main channel and a more reality-TV-driven version on the VOD platform, while in Finland, MTV3 commissioned a 20-episode supersized version to sit alongside the original version.

We [launched] at MIPCOM Love for the Ages, from Kinetic Content for Tplus (U.S.). In the series, three middle-aged married couples, each at a crossroads, attempt to inject some youthful energy back into their lives by swapping their spouses for partners 20 years younger in the ultimate test of whether the grass is better when it’s greener. It’s a unique relationship format that meets social experiment.

We also see that entertainment formats continue to be in demand. Claim to Fame, from Kinetic Content for ABC (U.S.), is a fun and intriguing format that sees 12 ordinary people with famous relatives challenged to keep their identities a secret while exposing the others one by one. It combines house reality with a challenge-driven competition.

TV FORMATS: Are streamers looking for different kinds of shows versus your traditional linear broadcasters?
GERHARTZ: The approaches of streamers and linear broadcasters are not so different anymore, as broadcasters all have a VOD strategy now. They’re all looking for hybrid formats that can work on both linear and nonlinear and that also offer volume, especially for the binge-watching audience.

There are exceptions, though, and certain genres remain a linear game, such as live event shows and studio-based game shows. But most traditional networks are equally looking for binge-watchable, VOD-capable shows.

TV FORMATS: How are you working with your own and third-party companies to find new ideas?GERHARTZ: Working with both our own and third-party production companies has always been part of our approach and ambition.

We also continue to see that good ideas can come from anywhere in the world, but it needs know-how and experience to turn an idea into a project. Our job is to turn great ideas into successful commissions, no matter where they originate from.

TV FORMATS: You’ve developed projects with Nippon TV. Tell us about opportunities for co-development across markets.
GERHARTZ: Co-development is about creating a partnership between companies with great ideas, in-depth local knowledge about what their respective market wants, great access to commissioners and budgets, and expertise in marketing and selling the idea. That’s the purpose of the distribution business, to turn an idea into business—it’s not enough to just have a great idea. These partnerships can happen across territories and on different levels of the value chain. There’s no perfect rule as to how to successfully co-develop; it requires a level of trust and expertise that you build over a number of years.

TV FORMATS: How risk-averse are broadcasters and platforms today?
GERHARTZ: I don’t think anybody in this industry can afford to act risk-averse—maintaining the status quo is not an option anymore. It’s an industry in a state of transformation, the speed of which has accelerated because of Covid. There’s a strong willingness to shape the future, push boundaries and try new things.

As part of this, I expect we’ll see the continued popularity of revivals that offer fresh spins on the original idea. For example, we secured a handful of new commissions for the comedic game show My Man Can, which we first launched eight years ago and recently had a new version launch successfully in Germany.

TV FORMATS: What goes into managing a franchise like Married at First Sight to keep it fresh and successful?
GERHARTZ: The key to successful brand management in the formats business is to ensure a show remains authentic and true to itself but has room to develop in response to changing viewing patterns and habits.

For example, during Covid, many people were at home and wanted to binge-watch. The natural thing for broadcasters and platforms to do was to supersize an existing brand, so many channels went from six episodes of Married at First Sight per season to 20. A lot of channels also realized that Married at First Sight is not just a show; it’s something people want to experience in a broader and more in-depth way. As such, we’ve seen spin-offs and even merchandise, such as a board game in Denmark.

When broadcasters potentially need to be more cost-effective, it’s important that they make the most of their most successful brands and utilize them in a multitude of ways—across SVOD and linear and so on. Social media is also becoming a more important piece of the puzzle, not just as a marketing tool but also increasingly as a new revenue stream.

We are also seeing a revival of shows that were strong before Covid, like Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. In Australia, a new take on the format launched called Old People’s Home for Teenagers. It’s a good example of taking an existing brand but renewing it and putting it into a fresh context. The idea is still relevant; you just have to update the execution.