Fremantle takes formats to France, Spain, Russia

Push for sales, licensing, branding

FremantleMedia is planning a significant expansion in France and Spain and is in talks to launch its own operations in Russia, CEO Tony Cohen said Monday.

The entertainment powerhouse behind such shows as "Idols" and "X Factor" is seeking opportunities to create more versions of its shows for local markets as well as accelerating the growth curve of its so-called enterprise operation, covering program sales, brand-building, licensing and merchandising operations.

"The southern European belt is very interesting. We see a whole range of opportunities through partnerships or acquisitions — we could do better in France, and we could be bigger in Spain," Cohen said during a Fremantle breakfast during opening day of MIPCOM.

Cohen also is in "early stage" conversations with several Russian producers about launching a Fremantle operation in that nation.

"We've got a lot of shows on in Russia, but at this point we do it all through partners. We are looking at a joint venture or starting our own venture," he said.

Cohen said the recent wave of private equity-funded producer-distributors that have emerged in Europe would have to work at the detail of building such businesses. Last week, Palamon Capital Partners announced £185 million ($375 million) funding for an expansion-hungry super-indie aiming to produce drama and entertainment formats across Europe.

"People have seen what we have done and are constantly trying to build similar models, but it is not as easy as it looks. It takes years," Cohen said. "It is not just about the production, it is about the program brand-building market as well."

Cohen tipped Fremantle's Japanese format "Hole in the Wall" for international success. The show sees contestants face being knocked into a swimming pool unless they can fit through a hole cut into a moving wall.

"It's not one of our brainier formats, although we do brainy very well," Cohen said. "But I've yet to show it to a room where people haven't instantly started laughing."