Guinness World Records is one of the biggest and most recognised brands in the world, and it has big ambitions for TV. Following Record Breakers in the UK, which ran from 1972 to 2001, and Guinness World Records Primetime on Fox in the US from 1998 to 2001, the company went on to produce original formats in eighteen other territories around the world. Here, Rob Molloy, the brand’s Director of Global TV Content and Sales, talks about Guinness World Records’ television ethos, and its plans for the future.
K7: People will no doubt be aware of Record Breakers and Guinness Primetime, but how has your TV business evolved over the last decade or so?
RM: Since [Record Breakers and Primetime] we had original productions in eighteen other territories. Part of the licence deal that we had in any of these countries is that we retain ownership of copyright in the finished shows and we control the international distribution of the shows. So that kind of feeds the second half of our TV business, which is the distribution of Guinness World Records programming, both long-form completed programmes and short-form clips.
That’s essentially what we do. We license the brand to producers and broadcasters who want to make a local version of Guinness World Records, we give them access to all the branding and livery that goes with that, access to all of our records, our guidelines. We give them potential talent that they can use that we’ve used in other shows. We also encourage them to source talent and record ideas locally, and liaise with them to find appropriate record categories or create new record categories for them to reflect their local market, but we kind of sit centrally. We know a bit about various TV territories that we’ve worked in, but we rely on the in-depth expertise of producers to make the best show possible for that territory.
The format is the concept of breaking Guinness World Records titles, and that sits at the centre of every show we do.
K7: How does your commissioning process work? Do producers come to you with a pitch or do you seek out producers in territories you’re interested in?
RM: It’s exactly both of those. Guinness World Records TV is a division which follows the overall strategic growth of the company, so we don’t control anything specifically ourselves, but if we are looking to push into certain other territories TV is then used to help with that initiative. If there are specific territories that we want to work in we will work very proactively to source the best producers in those territories and then work very hand in hand with them to develop shows that work in their market and help them to pitch the shows. In other territories, if we have existing relationships or we get introduced to particular producers, we might work quite proactively. Otherwise, it tends to be a bit more reactive with people coming to us wanting to make local shows.
K7: Record Breakers was a kids show. The Fox show was primetime. Is there a difference in people’s perception of the Guinness World Records brand from territory to territory?
RM: Totally. Almost every market has a different perception of the Guinness World Records brand, and I think it’s the way the book has grown the perception in the market, and it’s all gone in different directions. So, you go to some parts of Asia and they don’t even know that we have a book, often. They see us as this floating governing body for all types of world records. So, in those parts of the world we’re taken extremely seriously, whereas you go to the States, for example, and it’s there considered much more fun. It’s much more entertainment. The UK probably sits kind of in the middle of those, because there is such a long history with Guinness World Records, there is an understanding of the different directions it can go in.
K7: Do you see that as a limitation to be overcome, where you have to reintroduce the brand wherever you go and adapt it? Or does it make you more flexible in the sense that Guinness World Record programmes can easily fit into wherever they’re perceived?
RM: It’s often a challenge, for the exact reasons you say.
You know, we might go into some countries and people will say, ‘Well, that’s a kids book,’ or, ‘That’s about computer games,’ or whatever it is they know it for, and it’s just about working with those producers to overcome those often misconceptions, or certainly preconceptions, about who we are and what we do, and try to demonstrate how dynamic and varied the content can be with Guinness World Records.
K7: The question that always comes up is “what’s the format”? What is the Guinness World Record response to that?
RM: Ultimately, our position is there actually is no format. The format is the concept of breaking Guinness World Records titles, and that sits at the centre of every show we do. What is then done is we work to provide decoration and presentation around that central point, which works best for the particular audience on that channel at that time. So, there almost is only one format to the shows. The rest of it is about presentation. We very much say we’re licensing the brands to people. What we won’t say to a producer is, ‘You can only do one of these five shows.’ What we’ll say is, ‘Here’s the brand. This has to sit at the middle of what you do. Here are examples of what’s been done before. Now, let’s work with you to remake one of those or to borrow a bit from all of them, but essentially just to make the best show possible for your territory.’
Guinness World Records, or the attempting of world records as a concept, works quite well for a second-screen experience.
K7: Digital and second-screen experiences are still trending. What are your ambitions and expertise in that area?
RM: I think we’re quite lucky, because Guinness World Records, or the attempting of world records as a concept, works quite well for a second-screen experience. There’s all kinds of opportunities for viewers to find out more information, to potentially record a video of themselves doing a record attempt and submit it via their phone, to consume supplementary content, so if someone’s attempting a record on one of our shows we can perhaps make clips of all the previous attempts at that record available via an app. We’re quite fortunate to have a brand and content which works very well in that space. We have this pool of 40,000 records and 900 hours of programming and 5,000 application videos, and all of these assets. We’re saying to producers, ‘Here’s what you can choose from. Now let’s pick the best bits.’
K7: And what are your immediate ambitions for TV, or ideas you’d like to develop?
RM: I’d love to do some sort of quiz show. The problem we often have with quiz shows is two things. One is that the facts related to Guinness World Records are often so farfetched that people rarely know what the answer is, so it’s finding a way of creating a quiz around Guinness World Records content that can still be engaging. Secondly, there’s often a comedic element to a lot of quiz shows, and for us it’s very important that ourselves, our records, and our record holders are never ridiculed, and that’s often the easiest thing, or the first thing, a quiz show would look to do. So I think there’s an opportunity there, but we need to find the right one.
I’ve also got some ideas for turning Guinness World Records into a… ‘game show’ is almost the wrong word, but certainly a kind of team competition. Bringing together teams of friends or possibly even total strangers, and seeing what they can do to work together or work individually to attempt records and perhaps come together at the end to attempt a record together. They’re development ideas that I wouldn’t want to give too much away on at the moment, but should anyone want to know more, they can get in touch and I’d be happy to discuss it with them!