With experience assisting clients from Japan to the Ukraine, Mark Robson and Graham Smith of development consultancy Grand Scheme Media talk to K7 Media about the possibilities and pitfalls of creating formats with international appeal.
K7: What do you feel are the most common misconceptions around international format development?
GS/MR: We feel that there is far too much reliance on copycat formats, and a fear of revolutionary ideas. The history of great TV formats shows that the big hits emerged because they were genuinely original, rather than just copying last year’s success. Big Brother, Millionaire, Strictly, and the original Popstars all did something revolutionary rather than just follow the crowd, so that’s what developers, producers and International buyers should be seeking. New flavours, different attitudes, rather than just trying to dress up last year’s hit in a slightly different coloured jacket!
Big hits emerged because they were genuinely original.
K7: What would be your advice to production companies developing new ideas – should they plan for international markets from the very start, or does that risk eradicating the sort of local flavour that might make a format stand out?
GS/MR: Our advice would always be to develop initially for your home market – try to satisfy the specific demands of a domestic broadcaster first. If your idea has a broad, universal quality and an interesting twist, it will travel. UK producers, for example, know their own market, so use that knowledge and skill to create shows that will work here. If you create a hit in your home territory, you’re in a great position to sell it internationally.
K7: How can technology help – or hinder – the transition of formats across territories?
GS/MR: There can be a danger of getting bogged down in the “second screen” viability of your show, or the creation of the app becoming more important than the actual TV idea. When the pitch is all about the app, the tail can end up wagging the dog with potentially calamitous results, and if a show is overly dependent on a particular piece of tech, it can reduce the number of appropriate International destinations. However, when you’re pitching you must demonstrate that you’ve at least considered all the online, app, and social media aspects – commissioners will expect it.
K7: What would you say are the key factors an idea must have in order to translate well from one culture to another? And how do you prevent these universal elements from becoming overly familiar?
GS/MR: The magic is always in taking a universal experience – weddings, talent shows, cooking, dating and so on – and adding that one new original twist that brings a fresh perspective on a subject where we thought we knew all the angles. That’s what clever development producers do – they find the new twist, the new idea that can completely refresh a genre.
If your idea has a broad, universal quality and an interesting twist, it will travel.
K7: A lot of formats are built around the personality of a particular host, or rely on the character of a celebrity. Does this limit international appeal?
GS/MR: It shouldn’t do. Casting of the talent is key, and it’s all part of the challenge of satisfying the demands of local broadcasters. Talent gets shows commissioned. When the format sells, the challenge is to find the appropriate local talent who can repeat the magic of the UK success. Who is the Ukrainian Paddy McGuinness? Or the Turkish Ryan Seacrest?
What do you think is the big untapped idea that the industry at large has yet to embrace where international formats are concerned?
GS/MR: Ah ha… this is the big search, and seeking it is the thing we do every day, whatever it is! It might not necessarily be a “big untapped idea”, it might just be a brilliant new way of looking at a long-established genre, or an unexpected hybrid of two different genres. At Grand Scheme we spend time working with development teams to open their minds to the possibilities provided by the myriad channels who are now commissioning shows. TV should be fun, and when we work with creatives, our job is to reveal the limitless possibilities on offer. TV will continue to evolve and reinvent itself and we help people realise those opportunities.