Europe hits on right formula to entertain investors’ interest in international TV formats

TELEVISION: Heavyweight investors, from ITV in the UK to Hollywood studio Disney, see Europe as an indisputable regional powerhouse in the global TV-formats business, as shown at this year’s BCWW Formats event in Seoul.

During the conference-and-market event hosted by South Korean state agency KOCCA to promote the country’s media-and-entertainment market, JayKay Media Inc founder Juliana Koranteng highlighted Europe’s pioneering contribution to the international formats market.

Entertainment formats, for those outside the industry, are TV programmes with intellectual properties (IP) based on specific copyrighted formulae, such as game shows, reality TV, competitive singing, dancing, cooking and even blind dates.

Some are unscripted, like the much-storied Big Brother and hence the terminology “reality TV”, and others are scripted, such as the fictional comedy drama The Office.

What makes a TV format a great investment vehicle is the template that forms each series’ foundation. Get that part right and the IP’s construction can be replicated and remade via localised versions in tens, even hundreds, of countries worldwide.

The European heat is on
In The Hot and the New: TV Formats in Europe (pictured, below), JayKay Media Inc’s presentation at BCWW Formats in Seoul, Koranteng illustrated Europe’s strength as home to several tentpole global TV-format franchises.

Reality-TV pioneer Big Brother has been broadcast and/or adapted in more than 50 countries. Originally from the Netherlands, it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The Got Talent (pictured, below) format, the reality-talent show conceived by British impresario Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment, is in more than 75 territories. It entered the Guinness World Records in 2014 as the world’s most successful reality-TV format.

In terms of reach, the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is a strong contender for a similar accolade – having been seen or adapted in more than 160 countries.

MasterChef (cooking), Farmer Wants A Wife (dating), The X Factor (singing), Strictly Come Dancing – also known as Dancing With The Stars (dancing), singing contest The Voice (pictured, below), The Great British Bake Off (cooking) plus survival reality games like Survivor and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! are among the formats that have each become international money-making entertainment brands in their own right.

The above titles and several others not mentioned have one thing in common: they were made-in-Europe formats before being rolled out internationally.

The world’s biggest format makers include Fremantle (a subsidiary of German broadcast giant RTL Group); BBC Studios, ITV Studios, Syco Entertainment and All3Media in the UK; as well as Talpa in the Netherlands and the Dutch originated Endemol Shine.

TV formats might be formulaic in structure, but they are smothered in drama, tension, suspense, humour, music, laughter, dancing, fascinating competing contestants – basically, they can be the basis of great storytelling.

Broadcasters (and increasingly the new subscription-funded streaming platforms like Netflix) love to buy formats, especially after they have become hits in one country and are, therefore, reliable audience winners.

Formats data and investments
Between 2018 and 2019, TV-research giant Eurodata TV says, 16% of the more than 10,000 new series launched globally last year were entertainment genres that were dominated by formats. And the number of entertainment formats doubled compared to 2017.

France devoted 22% of its primetime hours to entertainment formats, while Germany allocated 17%. This makes them third and fourth respectively after the US and Japan, according to Eurodata TV. The UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium are among the Top 5 entertainment-formats exporters.

Some recent major investments have been in European formats. In Germany, Fremantle’s parent company RTL Group is launching a new division called Format Creation Group to focus on factual-entertainment formats and reality shows. The move is part of its €3.5bn annual investment in content.

ITV plc., the largest UK commercial broadcaster, has acquired Armoza Formats. Although based in Israel, Armoza is one of the world’s most prolific format producers with groundbreaking shows like Dance RevolutionThe Four, and Still Standing.

Following its US$70bn-plus acquisition of Hollywood-studio rival 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company now owns 50% of Endemol Shine Group (which produces Big Brother and MasterChef).

Spanish filmmaker The Mediapro Studio has launched Mediapro Labs to search for new content ideas, including formats made for digital distribution.

Here are some of the newly launched European-made TV formats expected to become international hits.

From All3Media International:
Race Across the World (reality-TV competition) Contestants must race against each other over several countries. No aeroplanes, mobile phones or credit cards are allowed; aired on BBC Two in the UK.

From BBC Studios:
Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure (social experiment reality TV) How a group of dementia sufferers regain hope after they join a choir that has to perform live; aired on BBC One in the UK.

Dancing with the Stars (reality dancing competition) Although already sold to 57 countries, it is an audience-ratings hit for Croatia’s NOVA TV network, which has brought back the show after six years off air.

From Fremantle:
Match Fit (makeover show) Former soccer legends, now middle-aged, unfit and bloated, go on a radical diet and tough modern-day exercise regime to get into shape for a real soccer game on the professional pitch. Aired on ITV in the UK.

Pictured below is Game of Talents (guessing-game/talent show) Contestants see a group of professional performers for the first time and have to guess the talent of each one – is he or she a belly dancer, or an opera singer? Get that right and win a lot of money, or lose it all, in the dramatic finale. Aired on Cuatro in Spain.

From Hat Trick International:
War on Plastic: with Hugh and Anita (social experiment) About saving our planet from the environmental horrors caused by our rubbish; aired on BBC One in the UK.

Drag SOS (a makeover format) When the people promising to change your life for the better are men who like to dress as women; aired on Channel 4 in the UK.

From ITV Studios:
Love Island (dating reality-TV – pictured, left) An audience-ratings sensation that was originally launched in its current form in 2015. It is included in this list because it is to be broadcast twice annually from next year; aired on ITV in the UK.

From Nordic World:
Semester (scripted short-form drama) A serialised mobile-delivered soap opera set in the world of young digital natives and aimed at mobile-viewing young people; aired on NRK Norway, TV4 Sweden, DR Denmark and YLE Finland.

Come As You Are (scripted comedy musical drama and pictured, below) A quirky but very funny musical – not a music video nor a show about music; this is a musical as normally expected to be seen on the theatrical stage; aired on TV2 Norway.

From Red Arrow Studios International:
The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes (reality cookery show and social experiment) Giving dementia sufferers responsibilities, in a commercial eating establishment, changes their lives for the better. Aired on Channel 4 in the UK.

Next Exit: Love (dating show) This places the blind-dating format inside a car, where the newly introduced singletons embark on a road trip that is either a romantic adventure or an auto nightmare. It also features a clever use of technology to profile the contestants searching for love.

From Talpa:
Thank You for the Music (a musical game show) Premiering on Dutch network SBS6, it asks contestants which one knows the most about popular music and is also great at spotting genuine talent among aspiring professional singers.

From Vivendi Entertainment:
Guess My Age (game show), the chance to win €100,000 or lose it all by correctly (or not) guessing the age of a complete stranger. Although sold to Spanish network Cuatro as a weekly series in 2018, its immense popularity has seen it return as a daily show in 2019.

Additionally, Hollywood-originated formats see Europe as a major market. From NBCUniversal International Formats, which licenses shows made or owned by Comcast Corporation-owned Hollywood studio NBCUniversal, comes cooking competition Top Chef (pictured, left). It centres the battle of all culinary skills fought out among aspiring chefs.

Already sold to 23 broadcasters worldwide, the German remake premiered on ProSiebenSat.1 in 2019. The French version celebrated its 10th anniversary this year on the M6 network.

NBCU’s Hollywood Game Night (game show), where celebrity teams and contestants play party games for cash prizes, has already been replicated in about 20 countries, including a second season in Sweden with national public broadcaster SVT.

BCWW Formats, an event organised by South Korea’s KOCCA for the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, took place on 20 to 21 August 2019 at the COEX Grand Ballroom, Intercontinental Seoul. JayKay Media Inc was privileged to have been on the same line-up that included keynote speaker Keri Lewis Brown (CEO of K7 Media); Michelle Lin (K7 Media); Bo Zhang (Eurodata TV Worldwide); Jin Woo Hwang (CJ ENM); Alex Oe (Entertainment One); Hyunmo Ahn (BrandNew Music)