FRAPA Newsletter

Dear members and friends of FRAPA,

if there was a message for the international formats industry from MIPCOM 2008 last month, it was keep calm and carry on. Joanna Stephens reviews a surprisingly buoyant week at the Cannes content bazaar. WITH the global economic crisis like white noise in the background, MIPCOM 2008 could well have been a subdued affair.

Downturn? What downturn?

It wasn't. At least not for the international formats community, which was out in force, finessing deals, forging partnerships, flaunting new product - and flying the flag at the C21/FRAPA International Format Awards (IFA).

Robert Chua, a veteran of the Asian media industry, founder of Health and Lifestyle Channel (HLC) and a FRAPA board member, is not the only one to have been surprised by MIPCOM's apparent immunity to global events. Considering the precarious state of the world's financial markets, he was, he admits, expecting it to be a much more challenging week.

"But it seemed to be business as usual," Chua says. "In fact, it was a very good market for me in terms of talking to potential partners. Asia is opening up and people are really starting to realise it." His MIPCOM mission, he adds, was to seek investors to help launch his Hong Kong-based interactive Health And Lifestyle Channel (HLC) by satellite into mainland China. He was also on the hunt for medical and lifestyle formats with the ability to migrate across media platforms, from traditional TV to the internet, IP and mobile.

Chua's upbeat assessment is shared by Avi Armoza, founder and CEO of Israel's Armoza Formats, whose MIPCOM slate featured several new formats, including Comedians At Work, The Inconceivable, Smart Ace and Approved For Love. "People were perhaps being more careful in their deal-making," he says. "But our overall impression was that the formats industry is in a very solid position, with more companies looking to acquire formats on the one hand, and more companies seeking to maximise their income by formatting their IP on the other."

Armoza Formats' Avi Armoza:
"The formats industry is in a very solid position"

Armoza adds that, when people buy a format, they buy the security of a product that has been funded, developed and tested: "In other words, they avoid the most expensive and dangerous part of making television." With insecurity and loss of confidence lying at the heart of the present financial crisis, he suggests, it is hardly surprising that broadcasters are more inclined to invest in tried-and-trusted formulas than gamble on developing shows from scratch.

Certainly, Armoza's theory seems to have been borne out on the sales front: he reports strong interest in several of his titles, notably Comedians At Work, in which comics are sent off to do a variety of jobs, about which they must then write a stand-up sketch; and The Inconceivable, billed as "a supernatural variety show that takes you on a journey into the obscure and bizarre".

In Cannes to help showcase the latter, which has enjoyed four successful seasons on Israel TV, was mentalist and illusion artist Nimrod Harel, whose death-defying stunts have mesmerised audiences from Tel Aviv to Thailand. "Nimrod's presence at MIPCOM certainly gave The Inconceivable a very strong push," Armoza says, adding that the format is now en route for Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland. "Most of the show's mechanisms and content are derived from his talent, so there was no-one better to explain and promote the format," he adds.

A little light relief from the business of business came mid week, with the second outing of the C21Media/FRAPA International Format Awards (IFA). The location was a beachfront venue, the audience consisted of 250 MIPCOM delegates, the judges comprised C21's 30,000-strong community of worldwide TV executives - and the winners were a mixture of the usual suspects (Distraction, Zodiak, Endemol) and rank outsiders (Sera Film Services, Caracol TV).

Making off with his second consecutive award - for Marie Brissette Productions' Make It Short, which beat Endemol's Wipeout and All3Media's Top Trumps to top spot in the best reality category - Distraction chief Michel Rodrigue says winning an IFA is more than a gratifying pat on the back by one's "peers and competitors". From the moment Make It Short started pulling ahead of its rivals in the online voting, which took place throughout September, "people started to ask about the show Rodrigue reports. “It immediately generated commercial interest, and that has only intensified since we won the award.”

Make It Short, which follows young film-makers in a short-film competition, airs on Tele-Quebec, a small French-language public broadcaster with a 3%-4% market share. “I always knew it was a great show,” Rodrigue says, “but this award confirms that it’s got real international potential.”

For Rodrigue, MIPCOM 2008 will go down as the year of the joint venture. Just prior to the Cannes event, the Canadian company announced it had forged an alliance with the Australian producer-distributor dSP Beyond to produce shows from their respective format catalogues. The first project to be undertaken by the joint venture — to be called sdSP Beyond Distraction — is an Australian version of CBC Canada’s hit political-reality format The Next Great Leader, which Distraction handles internationally. “Our collaboration with Beyond has created a great deal of interest among our other clients,” Rodrigue adds. “At MIPCOM, we brought a lot of potential partners to the table, and I'm pretty confident that we’ll be announcing several other joint ventures in the coming months.”

As the financial world lurched from crunch to catastrophe, the impact of the squeeze on broadcast budgets was inevitably a major topic. So, too, were the programming genres likely to appeal to cash-strapped viewers. Armoza says he senses a stronger demand for feel-good dating and comedy shows. “Though making people laugh is probably going to be a lot tougher…” he observes.

Many MIPCOM buyers, meanwhile, were predicting the resurgence of the trusty game show, perhaps inspired by Endemol’s new global format 20Q. A reinvention of the classic parlour game Twenty Questions, the show debuted to the international market via a live studio run-through in front of an audience of senior executives — one of whom, Net5’s programme director, went home with the $10,000 prize. The Spanish terrestrial broadcaster Antena 3 didn’t go home empty-handed either, acquiring 65 episodes of the show.

Endemol was also doing the business with the casino quiz Spinstar, the first 30 episodes of which have been sold to the UK’s ITV1, where it will premiere later this year. Over in Russia, meanwhile, Endemol Moscow was commissioned by Channel One to produce a primetime adaptation of the Talpa drama series Viper’s Nest. Already a hit in France and the Netherlands, the scripted format mixes drama and comedy to tell the story of four very different women who share one quality — extreme wealth. The deal follows Channel One’s commission of a local version of Endemol’s drama The Heritage, which is due to air this year.

Undressing also appears to be in fashion. Not only did Endemol announce a pan-territory deal with Passion Distribution for the BBC3 game show Fashion Strip — in which contestants strip down to their underwear, select an outfit from random clothing dropped on them from the roof, and then strut their stuff on the catwalk — but All3Media International was also displaying naked ambition. In the most literal sense. The UK distributor’s MIPCOM offensive centred on the style guru Gok Wan, host of Maverick’s new ‘make-under’ format Miss Naked Beauty, in which women bare their all to the nation. All3Media was also marketing several new factual formats on behalf of ex-RDF man Stephen Lambert’s new transatlantic studio, including Undercover Boss, Ultimate Gap Year and The Jacksons In Devon.

Other headline-grabbing moves from the format crowd included the news that the BBC’s Top Gear is on the road to Russia, following a deal with MIR Reality Production, which is to produce 15 adrenaline-fuelled episodes of the cult motoring franchise; and the appointment of ex-Action Time chief Caroline Beaton as MTV Networks International’s (MTVNI) first formats specialist. In her new role, Beaton, who founded Road Trip Media in 2004, is to help MTVNI exploit its 30-plus formats, which include The Joe Schmo Show, Punk’d, Room 401 and From G’s To Gents.

2waytraffic — the driving force behind Who Wants To Be A Millionaire — was also enjoying a high profile at its first MIPCOM as a Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) company. In its new incarnation — it was acquired by SPTI earlier this summer — the Dutch company is responsible for the international distribution of Sony formats, as well as its own shows. This “formidable portfolio”, in the words of SPTI president Michael Grindon, includes such juggernauts as Dragons’ Den and Power Of Ten, in addition to new formats The Hellfire Club, Your Money Or Your Life, Love’s Roulette and Stay Of Execution.

Also doing brisk business was Chris Bonney, managing director of the UK format distributor Outright, whose MIPCOM roster included the physical challenge show Unbreakables and the unstoppable Supernanny, who has now bustled her way into 151 territories as both a finished show and a format. Employing the same no-nonsense approach to badly behaved pets, It’s Me Or The Dog also continues to go from strength to strength: Bonney reports that a US version of the Channel 4 show just launched on Animal Planet.

MIPCOM also saw Outright land its first deal for the factual format World’s Strictest Parents. SBS Netherlands licensed the show, which follows UK teens as they leave their own families to spend 10 days living under the rules and roofs of some of the world’s scariest parents. “It was very well received,” Bonney says of the Twenty Twenty series, which aired on the UK’s BBC3 this summer, giving the channel its highest ever audience for a launch episode of a factual series. “It’s a social experiment that explores important family issues, such as smoking, homework and sex. It’s a genuine emotional journey that, ultimately, benefits the teenagers, who return home to their families with a new perspective.” In the wake of MIPCOM, the series is now also headed for Australia and Germany.

Bonney is another who believes that gamers may well be in for a revival. “I think studio-based volume shows will kick in for a while,” he says. “Formats that are tighter on budget and tighter on cost are definitely on the up. But as with all sub-genres, demand is cyclical — and we’re definitely seeing more demand for game shows at the moment. That said, we’re about ripe for another big game-show breakthrough. Deal Or No Deal was really the last world-beater…”

Distraction’s Rodrigue agrees that it’s time for another whopper: “We need a new primetime monster. We didn’t find it this time. We didn’t have it in our portfolio and neither did anybody else. But we’re still looking — and we’ll know it when we see it.”

FRAPA is proud to welcome a new member who has joined our association in the last month:


We look forward to the pleasure of working with them. We hope to build upon their membership, cementing our prime position as an independent trade and protection association in the world of television formats.
Thank you for your interest in the FRAPA newsletter!
We again would like to invite you to use the newsletter as a platform for your news: whenever you have to announce something or want to get in contact with other members please give us a call or send in an email. It will be our pleasure to help you.

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