More from Banff: Global formats and surfing for factual

Highlights from the non-fiction stream of content at this year's Banff World Television Festival included discussions about creating formats that can travel and factual content that can cross platforms.
June 17, 2010

Highlights from the non-fiction stream of content at this year’s Banff World Television Festival included discussions about creating formats that can travel and factual content that can cross platforms.

Tuesday’s ‘Formats that Travel’ panel brought together a format doctor, format creators and broadcasters to reveal the recipe behind successful global formats. According to moderator Justin ‘Format Doctor’ Scroggie, a decision-maker needs to run through a checklist of six questions before picking up a non-fiction property. They include: Does the show have universal appeal, will it travel, is it locally adaptable, and does the producer who’s pitching it really believe in the show?

‘If you fake it you can’t make it,’ agreed Deal or No Deal creator Dick de Rijk, noting that his show ‘sat in a drawer’ for six months after fruitless pitches to two networks. ‘It all happened because we kept bringing it back to the table,’ said de Rijk, noting that even after it was picked up by Endemol and sold into 15 territories, it was still a tough sell for the U.S.

Likewise, Tim Crescenti, previously with Sony Pictures Television International and Fox and now president of U.S.-based format producer and distributor SmallWorld IFT, had a hard time convincing his contacts that an odd, entrepreneurial reality show he spotted on Japanese TV would work anywhere other than Nippon Television. (One German buyer thought he’d lost his mind, he recalled.) But the show, now known to many as Dragons’ Den, had some of that aforementioned universal appeal – namely, money with a dash of gambling.

‘We all want to be rich. We all want to be millionaires,’ said Crescenti, noting that half of the formats traveling around the world are game shows.

Deal or No Deal, de Rijk offered, has added universality because the format is flexible enough to allow for the equally key factor of local flavor. The briefcases on the Panamanian version of Deal have brands on them, not numbers, for instance. The Turkish version of Wheel of Fortune was, amazingly, reworked as a three-hour live show complete with singers and belly dancers.

Likewise, when John Brunton of Toronto’s Insight Productions imported Deal or No Deal, it helped that U.S. host Howie Mandel was from Canada. Brunton said Insight’s take on American Idol for CTV also worked because, when compared to Americans, Canucks have greater confidence in their musical talent. ‘In music we don’t suck,’ Brunton joked.

Wednesday’s ‘Factual in a Digital World’ panel, like the ’21st Century Factual’ panel at the Realscreen Summit in February, addressed the interrelationship between TV and the myriad screens available to audiences in a multi-platform world.

One of the more impressive case studies brought to the table during the discussion was Inside Disaster from Toronto-based PTV Productions. The cross-media project, produced in conjunction with the Canadian Red Cross, involved sending doc and interactive crews to the scenes of disasters to capture rescue and relief efforts.

Within 12 hours of the Haiti earthquake, PTV’s people were on a plane and, within 24, were blogging and sending back footage from the aftermath.

‘We were feeding CNN,’ said president Andrea Nemtin. ‘We knew that when disaster struck, people would be surfing,’ not waiting for a doc that might arrive 18 months later.

The company’s efforts generated good press and connected PTV with its audience faster than any traditional broadcast. Though a TV version is in the works Inside Disaster struck, and presumably will strike again, next time, while the iron was hot.

‘It used to be that you’d ask who of six broadcasters would want to buy your show? Now [the question is] how do I reach my audience?’ said Nemtin.

The company followed similar strategies with its Star Portraits and Saving Places. The latter, a show about restoring historical buildings, landed on History Channel Canada in the unenviable Saturday 7pm slot. ‘They weren’t betting on this one to spike,’ she said, ‘but the ratings were four times what they expected.’ That’s because PTV reached out to restoration and history enthusiasts via email through a reading list it picked up from its partner, the Heritage Canada Foundation.

The company is bullish about online, though other execs on the panel at Banff expressed the need for caution. Charles Tremayne, EVP of programming at Cineflix, noted that the Montreal-headquartered company takes a conservative approach when adding new media elements to its projects – it would rather do something second and get it right, than take a risk on doing it first.

‘We’re not not interested in [online]‘ he told the crowd, but ‘the TV show continues to come first.’

‘It’s the glue that holds everything together,’ agreed Michel Rodrique, formerly of Distraction Formats, who is now a formats advisor and broker with Engine Entertainment. ‘We still need the element that generates mass audiences.’

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.