MIPCOM: Can Banijay's 'Live' Revive the Talent Show Format?

Live, Banijay - H - 2018
Credit: Banijay

TV audiences vote live via an app to determine if contestants, performing live, will go to the next level in this new twist on the variety show competition.

In a hall outside Denmark’s biggest TV studio, sat inside the imposing, glass-fronted "DR City" headquarters of the state-funded broadcaster just a short taxi ride from central Copenhagen, a nervous group of musicians is waiting for their potential make-or-break moment.

The 30 or so — some of whom perform vocal exercises, others simply psych themselves up — are a diverse bunch, ranging in ages from the late teens to the 30s. Some lurk in groups and clutch guitars or drumsticks, while others prepare alone, instrument-free. The outfits also differ wildly — there are as many in elaborate costumes and makeup as those who look like they’ve come straight from the library. One group of male performers stands out with distinctly blue stripes painted on their faces.

While the scene may not be too dissimilar to the backstage rooms of many TV talent shows, this is actually the first-ever recording of a brand new concept, being launched in Denmark before being offered out to the world, starting at international TV market MIPCOM in Cannes this week.

Introducing Live, created by Nordisk Film TV Denmark, part of French TV production giant Banijay Group. As the title suggests, the emphasis here is on the live performance, with the pitch being that whereas with previous talent competitions it was all about getting a record-deal, concerts have now become the main breadwinners of a music business dominated by internet downloads and streaming. So to be a star, you better be able to deliver live, onstage.

Much like fellow European TV giants Endemol and Talpa, Banijay is trialing the show concept in a smaller market with demographics that can be applied to the rest of the continent. Denmark, with its small, but rich, well-educated and media-savvy, population, has become a popular TV testing ground.

The show came about after DR’s media editor Henriette Marienlund declared the broadcaster would stop importing foreign shows and begin taking more risks on local developments. Underlining this, Live has actually replaced the local version of X-Factor, which — echoing a trend elsewhere — had been suffering a gradual decline in ratings.

“It’s important to DR that we incessantly focus on creating new big formats,” DR’s head of entertainment Jan Lagermand Lundme tells The Hollywood Reporter. “As a public service provider, we have an obligation to show the TV industry that we have the courage to dare to take chances.”

On a Friday night in Copenhagen, this dare is taking shape.

Under the glare of the studio lights, and an audience of several hundred, the contestants — split up into female solo artists, male solo artists, and bands — have just 30 seconds to impress, the idea being that most consumers these days give a song just that amount of time on such platforms as Spotify to spark their interest before moving on.

Giving the show another up-to-date twist, the voting occurs live via a dedicated Tinder-style app, with the viewing public invited to swipe right for approval or left for disapproval. The scores are then totted up, with the performer with the fewest right swipes cast out. The remaining two are then selected by Live’s two coaches, in this case Sanne Salomonsen, considered Denmark’s Tina Turner, and Lina Rafn, the country’s Taylor Swift. Should the coaches like the same artist, it’s once again down to the viewers to decide on the app.

“It’s truly a live audition,” says Peter Hansen, Banijay Nordic chief creative officer and himself a well-known TV host on shows such as Denmark's Dancing with the Stars.

The reality show-meets-app concept isn’t a new one, and the first show of its kind, Keshet's Rising Star, famously bombed globally. A hit in Israel, the variety show format was quickly canceled after just one season on ABC in the U.S. A planned U.K. version on ITV was pulled before it even aired.  In the U.S., many debated the feasibility of a live voting show in a country with multiple time zones.

Naysayers suggest Live could face similar obstacles as it rolls out internationally. Banijay avoids the Rising Star comparison, referencing instead its interactive show All Against 1, a game format in which one contestant goes up against the entire nation. All Against 1, developed by the same team behind Live, has since successfully been re-produced in Finland, Norway and the Czech Republic, with Germany set to follow.

Back in Copenhagen, the show’s very first audition sees three female wannabes — Joanita Zachariassen, Anita Soliz and Amanda Bog — perform after one other, Zachariassen’s funk-inspired song and Bog’s quieter guitar ballad eventually gaining the necessary approval. The full 90-minute show goes ahead without any major hiccups, the only noticeable slip being when one male singer has to start again due to a dodgy mic (this is live, after all).

One interesting outcome from the night is that the vast majority of songs are originals rather than covers, a mainstay of X-Factor and countless other such shows. 

As Lundme says: “We wanted to create a new way of displaying talent. We wanted to show Denmark how much talent there is, and we wanted to show the viewers how many talented artists there actually are in the country who can create their own music.”