Big Brothers

Global format owners are using the recession to their advantage

As global economic woes hit broadcasters hard, many are passing up scripted dramas in favor of proven unscripted formats.

That's good news for the owners of those shows, many of which are riding high despite the recession.

Under new CEO Ynon Kreiz, "Big Brother" and "Deal or No Deal" producer Endemol is moving aggressively to expand its format business.

The company recently acquired Australian drama producer Southern Star and wants to extend its action competition "Wipeout" in a cost-effective manner by using single sets as a backdrop for multiple-language productions.

ITV Global, the production arm of the British broadcaster, is flexing its own muscles, recently selling "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" to NBC via Granada. Under ITV Global managing director Lee Bartlett and recently appointed head of formats Remy Blumenfeld, the division is ramping up its global production, licensing shows like "Come Dine With Me" only if the buyer agrees to a production partnership.

Fremantle Media CEO Tony Cohen is managing the global rollout of the "Idol" and "Got Talent" brands.

But the producer-distributor is not resting on its laurels, expanding its relationships with a range of production entities including Original Prods., Wide-Eyed Entertainment and U.K. scribe Paul Abbot's Abbot Vision to bolster its global production network.

Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Reveille is expanding into new markets including Australia and Germany, and has hired top brass to run the divisions.

Former Fremantle execs Mark and Carl Fennessey, who co-produced Shine formats "The Biggest Loser" and "Masterchef," will run Shine Australia, while Axel Kuhn will run Shine Germany, where ProSieben is looking at new Shine format "Fame and Fortune."

And despite their own particular obstacles, two other U.K.-based juggernaughts continue to be players.

RDF Media CEO David Frank took the company private this year in an effort to move the producer of "Wife Swap" and "Secret Millionaire" past the Queengate scandal (in which a documentary for the BBC was falsely publicized as showing the Queen storming out of a photoshoot).

Under CEO John Smith, BBC Worldwide has had global successes with formats like "Dancing With the Stars," but a recent Parliamentary report critical of its strategy of buying overseas production companies could mean such deals are no longer in the cards.