Maarten Meijs is the director of sales at Talpa Distribution, part of John de Mol’s Talpa Media Group, based in the Netherlands. Meijs is in the business of international formats, and he took the time to update realscreen on the current status of global formats, including the impact of the economic slowdown and the fragmenting television markets.
How are formats faring in the economic downturn?
The broadcasters are looking more and more at the proven successes. In smaller territories you see people buying more finished programs in order to fill their schedules. There are a lot of popular series that generate great ratings and are cheaper than a local production. For example, in some markets like Turkey and Greece where the markets are very popular with scripted, like telenovelas and expensive drama productions, you see a change into formats because it’s cheaper than a drama production. It brings in opportunities but it’s a disadvantage and an advantage.
What convinces a network to buy a format?
The concept, but also the ratings and the material that you have is becoming more and more important nowadays. You see that [broadcasters] are following ratings from key countries to see if it might be adaptable for their country as well.
[Another thing that I] think has become more important has been the production knowledge and the support you can give people who acquire your shows. I think within Talpa we have quite the advantage because we are developing all of our formats in-house, producing in-house and distributing in-house, so all of the knowledge is in the company. That’s a big benefit for people who acquire our shows, that there’s knowledge of our shows that are presented and pitched and sold and you’re also able to deliver support to make a good local adaptation. Otherwise they don’t see a reason to buy formats.
What is your latest slate?
We’re having quite a good flow. One of our biggest deals of the moment is Dating in the Dark, which launches on ABC in the U.S. on July 20. It’s a dating experiment. Next month we are going to announce some new deals with this show as well. So far it has been sold in 15 counties. It just ended in the Netherlands and was one of the biggest shows this year for RTL5.
Other shows that have performed very well are a game show which premiered on ITV1 in May, Divided; another show that will launch on BBC One is Guesstimation and we created a funny new quiz show called Pretty Smart. It’s quite diverse at the moment. We have Celebrities on Welfare; we delivered the biggest launch in the Netherlands last year on RTL4. It was a show that created awareness about the less fortunate in the world. Throughout the format are tips and tricks on how to live on less financial resources and that’s something which fits very well in the current times.
How has the format business changed?
Definitely there’s more fragmentation nowadays. More television markets have grown and what has become more important is that the broadcaster reaches their target audiences. They’re focusing more on target audiences and it has become more important than ever. It also means that we are able to pitch and present our ideas to a lot of different broadcasters. If you look at our catalog we have programs like I Love My Country which is a very big entertainment show but for a very broad audience. [With] Dating in the Dark, you can make it for each audience. [In the U.S. it's] for ABC, which is a very family friendly station, while in the Netherlands it was on RTL5, which was a young station, [for] 20 to 35 [year-olds].
Competition has grown in distribution and creation in the last couple of years. Traditionally the ideas came from the U.S., the UK and the Netherlands and nowadays formats come from all over the world. Apart from having an idea which stands apart from other ideas, it’s also important to have the knowledge and provide the full package to broadcasters and companies who will buy your formats. The full package is not only television ideas, but also secondary things for revenue streams, like digital and interactive elements.