MIPTV: Formats and Factual Are Getting Back to Reality

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Big reality show formats like 'The Voice' are costing more and more to make, claimed TV execs in Cannes

"Some markets have housing bubbles; we have a reality bubble," said Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Adrian Swift of the skyrocketing cost of production on some reality shows.

The weekend in Cannes was all about connection – personal and digital – as players from the factual and format genres discussed the need to get back to basics while engaging audiences on multiple screens.

At a MipFormats panel called “The Formats Future,” executives agreed that the current climate made it difficult for new shows to break through and that broadcasters were becoming more risk averse.

“Some markets have housing bubbles; we have a reality bubble in Australia. I think it’s one of those things where we wait until the reality bubble goes pop,” said Australian Broadcasting Corporation head of content and creative development Adrian Swift. “The big formats like The Voice cost more and more to make. We aren’t too far from drama in the cost frame, so I think a lot of the networks, certainly in my territory, are scaling back reality.”

“Some of these big shows are really really expensive to make, and in a world where - especially with us - where budget’s a massive issue, it’s also thinking creatively and also trying out things online,” said BBC commissioning editor Pinki Chambers. Chambers said she was particularly excited about BBC3’s migration online, offering a platform to try out new formats to see if they connect with audiences before giving them a broadcast berth. She revealed that she was on the lookout for a program in the physical game show genre.

Genre gimmicks are over, one acquisitions exec told The Hollywood Reporter, with shows like Naked Dating giving way to simpler shows such as observational series First Dates, which airs on Channel 4 in the U.K. and is being executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres for NBC in the U.S.

"We’re moving away from the contrived stuff like Naked Dating and really trying to be so outlandish if you will, it’s a bit of a return to normalcy, that viewers can relate to. The characters make it interesting rather than the gimmick factor," they said, adding that the new factual formats were contrived and more about connection.

WildBear Entertainment CEO Michael Tear echoed that notion during a MipDoc panel entitled "What’s Hot, What’s New, What’s Next panel."

"A lot of what people have been talking about the last few days is authentic characters, original stories, extraordinary people," he said. "What is paramount to the storytelling is the degree of authenticity and doing something they would be doing if the cameras weren’t there. And I think that is sort of the key point – real people doing real things."

Science was a hot genre, agreed panelists at both MipFormats and MipDoc.

"As far as new formats coming out, I see a lot of new factual and reality where you actually learn something without realizing it," said Discovery networks head of formats and development Lena Strandner.

FremantleMedia director of non-scripted Angela Neillis concurred. "What I have liked recently is we’ve slightly steered back from reality program making which isn’t so easy for us to sell, and towards sort of science shows," she said. "Science seems to pop up in a really edifying way that audiences want to watch, that’s not too dry, no lecturing."

Sweden’s SVT format acquisitions strategist Markus Sterky said that his channel was looking for more comedy, and hybrid formats that would work with digital. All agreed that it’s essential to have a digital presence to help a show to break through.

At MipFormat's Creativity & Digital panel, Maarten Meijs, managing director of Talpa Global, the company behind The Voice which is building new programs with digital DNA, spoke with THR.

"It’s a longtail strategy. If you have a lot of niches, like [Disney’s] Maker Studios, you can make a lot of revenue and live long and happy, but if you want a big hit, you have to focus on the experience by adding a lot of different layers to the content," he said. 

Talpa is hoping for their next big hit in The Puppet Show, launching this week at MIPTV. The show is comedy hybrid that with cross-generational appeal to unite "traditionals" and the multi-screen addicted millennials, that has a strong digital as well as retail strategy built in. "Content is at the core, but we are able to connect television, digital, retail and events to reach a bigger audience," Meijs added.

Branded content with a digital touch is in the works for Zodiak Media, its CEO Marc-Antoine d'Halluin told THR. "We have some projects with big brands especially in Scandinavia which is a very developed digital space, lots of projects with brands that came to us knowing that they didn’t want to be with a traditional ad guy, but to have things that are scripted and well thought through when the brands come in in a natural way rather than having the product shoved in their face," he said.

Zodiak is continuing to work on the scripted format space, following the success of its international hit The Returned. “Right now the scripted formats side is growing faster because of the big need platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and even Youku Toudo - they need to be fed with good serialized series. There’s more momentum on that side than unscripted, but the unscripted side has to come up with powerful primetime concepts with original ideas that can also migrate or be a bit hybrid with digital dimensions. Though he added that might change soon. “We engage a lot with these guys and do business with them, and they are looking at the non scripted space very actively.”

Localizing formats was also important, added RMC Decouverte head of acquisitions Corentin Glutron, citing the example of Top Gear. "We have aired the UK and the US versions of Top Gear since the beginning . We just launched the French version a month ago and the ratings were massive," he said, citing over 1 million viewers for the first episode, double what the best episode of the UK version did on his channel.

What is clear is that everyone is still looking for the next big thing. But going into MIPTV, the acquisitions exec said he was doubtful that the next international phenomena will appear this week.

"We have hopes, we have high hopes, but our prep work has given me great confidence that we are not going to be in for a major surprise, so I’m not expecting a complete breakout hit that we haven’t already read or seen. I think we’ll see some interesting light entertainment, but I don’t’ think this market will have a breakout hit."

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