Innovation and interactivity key for formats: MIPFormats

Panelists speaking at MIPFormats in Cannes say that now, more than ever, fresh ideas combined with smart social media strategies will help formats rise to the top with audiences and broadcasters alike.
April 3, 2011

To have a new format connect with audiences and potential broadcasters alike, fresh ideas should be married to smart social media strategies that allow viewers to interact and contribute, and buyers to gauge buzz.

That’s the takeaway from the MIPFormats Interviews held earlier today (Sunday) during the MIPFormats component of MIPTV in Cannes.

During two separate interview sessions, moderated by C21‘s editor-in-chief and managing director David Jenkinson, panellists from the production, distribution and branded content sectors discussed new formats being shopped and new concepts being used to drive audience participation and even broadcaster involvement.

Unsurprisingly, social media is having much more impact in the format world from both a creative and business standpoint, demonstrated effectively by the TV Lab initiative created by Dutch public broadcaster NPO/Nederland 3. Now entering its third year on NPO, TV Lab takes over NPO programming for a week purely with format pilots. NPO then uses dedicated social networking feeds on Twitter, Facebook and other sites, to gauge audience response and potential interest in the assorted formats.

According to Roek Lips, general manager for NPO, last year’s edition of the Lab featured 19 formats, with eight shows being commissioned from the pack. The Bubble, an Armoza Format show, was one of the programs that has emerged onto the international stage from TV Lab.

Lips said this year’s edition will bring other public broadcasters from around the world into the fold, including Germany’s ZDF, while others such as the BBC have expressed interest in the initiative. NPO injects €500,000 (US$771,700) into the week, and has first option on any formats brought to the Lab.

“The goal is to share pilots and share knowledge, not to make a lot of money,” he explained. “It’s a very cost-effective project because a lot of independent producers want to join a project like this.”

John Brunton, head of Toronto-based prodco Insight Production Co., agreed, saying he thought the idea would be a perfect fit for Canada’s CBC.  “They’d be all over it,” he enthused.

Brunton added that after years of importing formats to Canada such as Canadian Idol, Project Runway Canada and Deal or No Deal Canada, the company is beginning to shop its own formats around the globe, beginning with the CBC hit Battle of the Blades and following up with the upcoming series Canada Sings.

Combining Glee-styled music and dance routines with a competition element, Canada Sings pits teams made up from employees of various companies against each other, culminating in a final showdown in which the winning team nets a cash prize for the charity of its choice. Brunton said he’s in Cannes to find the right distributor for the project. “You never want to be the 30th show someone pitches,” he said. “You want to see some passion and commitment.”

Beyond distribution, he might also find a willing brand partner for the format. According to Doug Scott, president of Ogilvy Entertainment, music formats, “feel good” programs and game shows are particularly brand-friendly. Scott and co-panelist Simon Brickle, director of Monterosa Productions, accentuated the point that the modern viewer has access to at least two screens every day; thus, multi-platform, participatory elements can add exponentially to a format’s buzz factor.

Danny Fenton, CEO of Zig Zag Productions, agreed, and although he said not every program Zig Zag develops will require an app, for example, it’s an element that’s being considered at the development stage rather than as an afterthought.

Aside from the tech talk, the key factor in any format’s success always comes down to creativity. Mike Morley, CCO and EVP at Sony Pictures Television, pointed to Talpa Media’s The Voice of Holland, coming to America as The Voice via Talpa, Mark Burnett and Warner Horizons, as an example of an old genre – the singing competition – being given a new lease on life via a creative twist.

“As producers we have to push the creative boundaries,” summed up Fenton.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.