Packaging shows for the world market is Fremantle's specialty.Having been quietly assembled over the past decade through a variety of global acquisitions, Fremantle-Media is a $1.4 billion company that is only now coming into its own as an entertainment force. Its distinctive profile is built around an art that it's managed to turn into a science: the ability to identify TV programming that lends itself to global consumption and to churn out regional versions of the shows for markets around the world.
"It's a branded approach to programming," Fremantle CEO Tony Cohen says. "They're programs, but they can be so much more than that. We call it the global-formatting phenomenon. If a show has global-formatting DNA, it can be reconstituted."
In addition to the various "Idols" (including those in the U.K., the U.S., Poland and India, to name four of the company's 35 international versions) Fremantle has successfully taken across borders shows including the "Got Talent" and "The Apprentice" series, as well as branded adaptations of "The X-Files" and game shows such as "Family Feud" and "The Price Is Right."
Cohen says the concept works equally well for scripted and unscripted shows.
"It used to be that you could make a drama and export that version of it. What we realized in the past few years is if you have a drama series with a very strong premise, you can re-create that premise in a lot of different countries," Cohen says. "'Ugly Betty' is a good example: An ugly girl moves to the big city and falls in love with her boss. We discovered that show, which was being produced in Colombia, and bought the format. The first territory we made it for was Germany, and it's a sensation there. And we now make the 'Ugly Betty' format in seven countries (excluding the U.S.)."
In all, Fremantle is doing business in more than 25 countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and of course, the U.S. "Pretty much everywhere you can think of, we have a production operation," Cohen says.
It's fitting, then, that the firm -- whose beginnings can be traced back to 1917 through its Bertelsmann roots -- takes its name from an Australian port.
Its more modern incarnation began to take shape in recent years, as Bertelsmann's RTL Group -- Europe's top TV and radio broadcasting company -- began collecting TV assets.
A good portion of the company came with the acquisition of the Mark Goodson Co. and its game show library. The U.K.'s Thames Television, purchased in 1993, was another building block, as was Australia's Grundy Television in 1995. All American Television (producer of "Baywatch") and Germany's CLT-Ufa followed, joining the fold in '97 and 2000, respectively. The assets were initially collected largely under the Pearson Television Group banner, but in 2001 the assets were consolidated under FremantleMedia.
"This place was a sleeping giant," FremantleMedia North America CCO Eugene Young says, noting that original production activity has been stepped up considerably this past year, with about 12 new programs and pilots in the hopper.
"In the span of a year, we've produced and shot a 15-episode telenovela for Lifetime, our scripted show 'The Beast' just got greenlighted at Fox, and we have two scripted pilots (including 'The IT Crowd') at NBC," Young says.
"Our scripted plan is very specific," he notes. "We're going to import half-hour British or Australian comedies that have a track record. 'The Beast' and 'The IT Crowd' are examples."
On the nonscripted side, Young's unit also has produced seven episodes of the improv comedy show "Thank God You're Here," set to debut April 9 on NBC, and in addition to continuing production on "American Idol," it is working on further seasons of "American Inventor," airing on ABC, and "America's Got Talent," airing on NBC, as well as continuing its "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency" for Oxygen and "Property Ladder" for TLC.
"Our approach is multitier and multigenerational -- programs that appeal to everyone and can be exploited on multiple digital tiers: on mobile and phones, broadband and television," Young says. "People aren't just watching television anymore, but they still want content."
Fulfilling that content craving on a global scale is a goal for which Cohen feels the company is well positioned, reflecting a changing global TV market. "Creating a hit show is one thing. These days, if a show takes off, it can launch around the world incredibly quickly, and that's a relatively new phenomenon," he says. "'The Price Is Right' took 50 years to get to 29 countries. 'Idol' got into 39 countries in five years. And now, 'America's Got Talent,' we have in 18 countries, since the fall of last year. This is the direction things are headed, and whether its scripted or nonscripted, nobody knows this game better than Fremantle."
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