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How to find the next big TV format

Blog
25 March 2014

So the thing is everybody wants the NEXT BIG THING.

It’s pretty obvious. Every single television channel that goes out to a big audience needs that amazing idea for a show that everyone will watch. The last BIG THING was The Voice. The new BIG THING is Rising Star, which is more about cool apps and tech than original formatting. But where’s the next BIG THING – and why aren’t there more of them about? After all, good TV sells and the creators of good TV can get very rich pretty quickly.

So why aren’t more people in the game and why do format buyers end up scratching around at market for Entertainment formats (Celebrity Tuk Tuk anyone)? What’s the point of flying home safe in the knowledge that you’ve secured the rights to some cheesy dance show rip-off?

It’s a bit weird that, in this world where television is so important, so few people break through with amazing and original formats. There are a few people who really understand the value of a TV format and they are all fabulously wealthy. This rare breed usually lives in The Netherlands, The UK or America. But even a format creating nation like the UK struggles to come up with really big shows often enough.

It took a long time for Who Wants To be A Millionaire to get commissioned. It’s legend now, and each year the legend grows. “It took thirty years of sweat by seventy men and women, driven to the brink of despair. Some even considered getting proper jobs. Finally, a dark and perhaps deranged programming boss raised an eyebrow and green lit the show. Since that day the format has earned it’s creators more money than even a crystal meth genius like Heisenberg could make and they all lived happily ever after”.

Maybe it’s the financial risk. Companies with extremely wealthy execs fret about spending money on kids with massive brains who might just come up with the next amazing television show. These are the same execs who trawl around the TV markets crying into a thirty dollar glass of beer and complaining that there are no new formats to buy.

Maybe it’s the creative risk. Commissioners won’t try something new often enough so good ideas get squashed.

Maybe it’s the public’s fault – they only watch stuff they feel comfortable with and don’t respond to good ideas quickly enough.

Maybe it’s just the way we are as consumers and creators and, in the natural order of TV, we get just enough hit formats to keep the advertisers happy.

But we would all benefit from bigger, better and more imaginative formats, wouldn’t we? And we should at least be seen to be trying to create them.

If you want a world of really great formats, truly inspirational and fresh new television, and a Cannes bursting at the seams with shows viewers want to watch, you’ve got to take risks.

You’ve got to take risks whether you’re a nation of great producers with no layer of successful creative talent, as we’ve seen in some countries, or whether you’re a medium-sized producer/Indie worrying about the overhead involved in taking on a development person.

Our attitude is – get that brainy person into your company. Build that Development Team. Run those brainstorms with passion and run them frequently (which is, ahem, where we can help). Throw ideas at the wall, never take no for an answer and invest in the future. And bring some magic to the market. Good luck out there.

Mark Robson (pictured top left) and Graham Smith (top, right) are the founders of Grand Scheme Media, which is running the new three month National Film and Television School (NFTS) + BBC Academy course – Entertainment Format Development. High profile producers from hit entertainment and factual entertainment shows will be taking individual sessions, and all the student will have a work experience placement with the standout student winning a three month contract as a development producer at the BBC. http://nfts.co.uk/our-courses/certificate/entertainment-format-development



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