Japanese TV Formats in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival Market Seminar

“Legally defining and protecting formats is difficult,” says an executive from Tokyo Broadcasting System, whose best-known formats include "America's Funniest Home Videos."

TOKYO – Japanese TV industry executives on Wednesday discussed the ins and outs of TV format sales at a seminar at the TIFFCOM market here, which accompanies the Tokyo International Film Festival.

The panel discussion was put on by Treasure Box Japan, the venture for the sale of Japanese TV formats that was created by the major networks here and is supported by Japan’s government. It  launched at MIPCOM in Cannes earlier this month.
“Formats are a legitimate way to copy someone's program,” said Makito Sugiyama, a veteran of the format sales business from Tokyo Broadcasting System. “Legally defining and protecting formats is difficult though.”
TBS' history in formats includes America's Funniest Home Videos, Takeshi's Castle and Sasuke/Ninja Warrior.

“What helped Japanese formats develop were the low budgets for the studio and locations – though the talent is very expensive - for most variety shows in Japan, forcing the producers to be very creative in what they do,” said Masaahi Hashiyada of Fuji TV, which has been behind international hits like Iron Chef and Hole in the Wall.
The highly competitive nature of the variety show sector in Japan has also been a factor, according to TV Asahi's Yumi Shimizu.
“The ratings track the different segments in each show, so we know what is working and what isn't,” Shimizu explained. “The various [segments] can be changed or canceled very quickly.”
The panelists pointed out that the multi-segment nature of many of Japan's variety shows mean that entire programs can often be developed from one of their parts.
How much freedom to give buyers to localize formats for their own markets can sometimes be a difficult balance to achieve, according to the panel.
“Most of the time it's enjoyable to see what local TV [networks] do with their adaptations of our formats,” said TBS' Sugiyama.