Kevin Lygo, ITV’s managing director, Media and Entertainment, sat across from Natalka Znak, the ceo of Remarkable/ Initial and ZnakTV at the RTS Convention session, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Global Formats.
Together with panelists Claire Laycock, svp head of Content and Planning, Warner Bros Discovery UK and Gama Gbio, development producer for Expectation and creator of Netflix reality hit Snowflake Mountain, this was the session that took a closer look at one of the core planks of TV content that is getting traction with audiences in the fight for attention.
Znak, dubbed the queen of reality TV after creating I’m a Celebrity, is bringing Big Brother back for ITV and Beauty and the Geek for Discovery+, both through Banijay’s Initial.
With formats and reality TV humming on linear channels as well as streamers, there’s never been a better time to get investment for an idea. And, with shows in this ball park having the potential for reversioning across territories, multiple spin-offs and remaining evergreen in a programme catalogue, it can create a back bone for both a channel and an indie business.
Media analyst Doug Wood had also formulated some data-based questions, where you can get a reality check on your own knowledge (see below). Lygo answered all questions correctly.
One of Lygo’s bottom-line observations was that you need to factor in the cost of producing any show when you’re looking at how many times it’s been re-versioned. Come Dine with Me being a snip, compared with I’m A Celebrity. “The cost of the show if I were producing – which thank goodness I’m not – would be a very mindful consideration if you’re thinking about global domination.”
Lygo delivered further home truths when the panel agreed that it was still tough to get an idea commissioned: “The format is only in my experience about 25, 30 per cent,” he said. “I’m as concerned as to who is going to make it, what are the ingredients that are going to go into it…It’s the way they’re done.” He gave an example of a hit that was turned down at first in the UK: “Take The Masked Singer, it was pitched to everybody, including us and turned down. Then it came back to me. I thought, ‘it’s a singing competition with people dressed up in silly costumes…It’s going to be Christopher Biggins in Guildford panto.’ Then I was shown a clip of the Korean one…Oh I get it. It’s this extraordinary, weird creative madness, It’s the doing, not the idea that makes that particular idea.”
Once an idea has gone to a first series, then the odds of success even up. “There’s a 50: 50 chance of series 2,” says Lygo. “Better than that for series three, and then you’re in.” Formats are heartland ITV, they need to get big audiences, five million is a benchmark. While this means that the broadcaster will fully fund pilots, it’s also that case that shows will probably be killed off if they don’t work in their first series. Right now, there are second series for Magnum Media’s 1% Club and Starstruck, from Banijay, through Initial.
Lygo distinguished these vote winners from hit reality and format shows that are more niche and find a home on more targeted services. “They’re good shows. But to ITV, who make money out of mass audiences, they wouldn’t really work.” ITV2 and ITVX, which has ordered Twofour’s Loaded in Paradise, are a different kettle of fish. “What we’re stepping into with X a little bit is is more niche,” he said. “There’s a reason why Love Island, Big Brother, these shows are on ITV 2 , not the main channel ….. Normally they get one million, maybe two if you’re lucky. That would look like it’s not delivering on the main channel. They work best when you flood your channels with them. I’m not sure that would be appropriate for ITV, which has a public service remit and has to satisfy a lot of people. We would scare the old ladies away.”
It’s indicative that ITVX is also investing in comedy. Lygo confirmed that there are six or seven comedies in production for the new streamer, where mass audiences are not imperative.
Smaller titles are still very attractive. Next up is Big Brother. “Big Brother is category defining,” he says. “It was the most extraordinary programme we’ve ever witnessed.” Getting it to work will mean bringing a new audience. “We learnt from Love Island how when these shows work they are incredibly important…. Love Island paved the way for busting the myth that teenagers don’t watch television…. If Natalka gets Big Brother right it could do a similar job for us.”
Natalka Znak, tasked with bringing Big Brother to ITV2, understands the size of her brief. She’s gauging how much to keep, how much to bring into 2023. “It’s a hard job to reboot a popular show…TV has moved on from when Big Brother was first on TV and we used to just love watching people eat their cornflakes ..The trick is to keep the heart of it but make it feel modern.”
For Clare Laycock, there are international considerations around commissioning formats. “For us it has to work in all our key markets, both original tapes and local versions. Something like 90 Day Fiancé [from Sharp Entertainment] is a brilliant example. It started life in the US 10 years ago, there’s now over 13 spin-off series, it’s a whole universe. The first local one in the UK [made by CPL] has been massive all around the world, including the US. We’re on that journey. But it has taken 10 years of heritage and all those spin-offs to get those mega fans in.”
Beauty and the Geek is coming back, with an English language version, another production being made by Initial. It was last seen in the UK on Channel 4 in 2006. In a climate where questions of gender are swirling, she was asked if it isn’t a counter intuitive commission? “It was rebooted in Australia and it was that version that caught our eye,” says Laycock. “If you think what’s changed since 2006, the rise of the geek. They didn’t used to be cool but they are now…..The beauties in our version are all women, so it feels stereotypical, but they’ve all got successful careers, double degrees. It surprises you when you watch it, it’s checking the stereotyypes. And it’s really heart warming, really funny.”
What do these shows need to do for her channels? Laycock is looking across SVOD Discovery+, as well as a large number of linear channels. “Overnights and ratings are still massively important on the linear side. For the SVoD, “it’s what ‘s going to drive subscription. But also advertising. There are a number of different metrics. And, yes, it’s hard to get a second series.” How important is reality to Discovery+ ? “It’s really important Partly because our linear networks don’t reach that younger demographic…so its important for us to get our content seen by different groups of people and Discovery+ skews younger just because it’s an svod. It’s true to say that reality is a really important driver of that.” Every week there’s new episode of 90 Day Fiancé in one form or another and the platform needs to give them something else to watch. That said, they are not going down “a 16-34 sinkhole” as they also need breadth and scale and match the platform with the channel.
Discovery+ is launching new astrology dating format Written in the Stars, made by Barefaced TV, in December. Launching any new reality show comes with clear risks. “That’s brand new, that’s risky, they’re big swings, they’re expensive,” says Laycock. “You go into them with your eyes open and your heart in your month.”
TEST YOUR GLOBAL FORMAT IQ
1. What is the most successful unscripted format of all time? All of them from the UK, around 20 years old. The winning format has been in more than 150 markets
a Got Talent
b Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
d The X Factor
2. Which format has the greatest numBer of new adaptations in 2021?
b.The Masked Singer
c The Voice Senior
d I Can See Your Voice
3 What was the top show on linear tv in 2021?
a I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here
b Line of Duty
c The Great British Bake Off
d Love Island
4 Looking at all new linear TV launches this year, unscripted series account for what proportion of this total?
a 50 %
b 70 %
c 80 %
d 90 %
5 Which territory originated the largest volume of unscripted format movers in 2021?
b The Netherlands
c South Korea
ANSWERS: 1 b, 2 b (41 markets), 3 a, 4 d, 5 A
Photo credit: Richard Kendal/RTS
Share this story