Andrew Zein, senior VP of creative format development and sales at Warner Bros. International Television Production (WBITVP), talks to TV Formats about how the company was well-served throughout the pandemic to weather the ups and downs of the various markets with a footprint that spans 14 countries with 24 companies.
“On the format-production side, like all production, it grounded to a halt in certain territories in the March-April period,” says Andrew Zein, senior VP of creative format development and sales at WBITVP. “Unscripted got back into production a lot quicker than dramas. We did find that there were challenges in making things Covid-proof, but most unscripted formats are in a set location, so Covid-proofing production for unscripted is way easier than dramas.”
He has seen, as of late, broadcasters ordering longer runs for shows that managed to push forward in production in order to fill empty slots.
With regard to format sales, Zein says the company felt the effects of delayed production, with broadcasters holding off on ordering second, third, fourth seasons. “There was a six-month knock-on in terms of reorders,” he notes. “But, in the last quarter of the year, we saw that in pretty much every territory, the ad market rebounded. People were buying shows and ordering. We’ve been investing in third-party shows and are happy to spend money because we see the opportunities out there.”
He adds that margins on productions are slightly lower because of adding in Covid testing and protocols, elements that slow things up or increase costs.
In terms of what’s been working well, Zein highlights First Dates. The show “absolutely continues to perform in the schedules,” he says. “It is relatively straightforward to set up in a Covid-compliant environment. In every territory where that was on-air, it’s been reordered and is in production with longer runs. It’s daily in Spain, Holland and Germany. In the U.K., it’s still prime-time event TV. All of those versions have been produced in the last six months. We’ve just launched Teen First Dates, which is absolutely fantastic. We had been looking forward to it, but we’ve all been surprised by how refreshing and distinctive it is from the original over-18s version. In the last few weeks, with that launch on E4, broadcasters from around the world have been approaching our production companies about it.
The Supernanny versions around the world have kept going, while shows like Who Do You Think You Are? that require international travel have been tougher. “Who Do You Think You Are? has been working in schedules, but that’s one where we’re pushing things 6 to 12 months out because you can’t jet off on a plane to go discover your roots as easily,” Zein says.
The location-based factual-entertainment formats Cash for Trash and The Repair Shop have managed to get back into production and stay in production, he adds.
“The thing that illustrates buyers’ appetite is we picked up The Wheel, hosted by Michael McIntyre for BBC One. That’s hit the ground running.” The show has been commissioned in Holland for SBS. The combination of it being a prime-time BBC One event, and reordered in the U.K., and having landed a U.S. adaptation with NBC has made it sought-after in the marketplace, with many discussions ongoing around the world.
“Broadcasters are slightly more circumspect about new shows than they have been in the past,” Zein admits. “But we’ve got a couple of things that are within the group that we’ve managed to get licenses or second sales before the first has even been produced, let alone been on-air.”
The Bachelor, he says, continues to do well everywhere it’s sold. The show has had eleven seasons in Germany, a long run in Sweden and is being produced in Denmark, though filming in Finland has been delayed due to Covid. In Australia, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette continue to roll, and in South Africa, The Bachelorette is proving to be a hit. “We’ve not seen The Bachelor fall off the air anywhere,” Zein adds. “It is doing well as that escapist, mother of all romantic formats.”
Looking at scripted, the Belgian courtroom drama The Twelve has been commissioned by Foxtel in Australia, marking the first English-language adaptation. Love Me from Sweden, which has had two seasons on Viaplay, was also picked up in Australia as an English-language adaptation. Warner Bros. represents the third-party Australian format True Story, a hybrid scripted/non-scripted show, and licensed it to Amazon for France, where there’s been a second season, and it’s now in development for Spain. The Mentalist and Pretty Little Liars still see an appetite in Central Europe and Russia, and both have been adapted in Asia. “Those U.S. self-contained one-hour formats are working well,” says Zein.
For a third-party title to sit in the catalog, Zein is looking for “something that you look at and say, Oh my god, I wish we had made this! It’s got to be really, really good!”
He gives as an example the digital comedy How to Buy a Baby from Canada. “Three or four of our territories had been looking at how that would be as a half-hour comedy. The Swedes were the first to get that away on Discovery. It’s brilliant; it’s everything we could have hoped for. They’ve taken a digital short and turned it into a scripted half-hour. We’ll get that over elsewhere because it feels real and authentic.”
He says that the overall strategy is to have a broad range of strong formats to appeal to different clients: “You want the shows like The Bachelor that have been around ten-plus years and are prime-time and proven, shows like The Repair Shop that work well in daytime, and having big studio entertainment shows are important.” He’s excited about a new show out of Holland called Ultimate Chain Reaction, in which competing teams try to construct uber-complicated, over-developed machines to do the most basic of tasks. The show is in production and launching soon. “It’s about having a mix of the new and the old, and formats can cover all parts of the schedule,” says Zein.