Formats are made to travel, and as more markets emerge for unscripted formats, more opportunities arise for content creators and rights holders. Here, realscreen goes globe-trotting to report on the recent activities shaping three regions to watch.
Number of television channels: Approximately 150
Almost a year after Simon Cowell cast his MIPCOM 2014 wish for a Got Talent competition in Mongolia, the producer’s dream was realized in September when broadcaster Mongol TV launched its own version of the talent show.
Helmed by CEO Nomin Chinbat, Mongol TV has set itself apart in the country’s saturated TV market as a leader that plays by the rules and rejects the piracy rampant among Mongolia’s myriad TV networks. Despite a population of three million, 150 active channels compete to show the newest and best programming, but because this content is usually too expensive to license from Western countries, films and TV shows are often pirated.
Further, many stations are owned by aspiring or serving politicians who use their channels as platforms during election periods but fail to invest in them the rest of the time. Combined with a lack of advertising revenue for all the networks, the climate cultivates an unequal playing ground, even forcing channels looking to be legitimate operations into piracy, in order to keep up.
Since taking the reins as CEO of Mongol TV in 2011, Chinbat has been on a mission to legally acquire all content on the station and boost local production. The exec’s first step was reaching out to Michel Rodrigue, CEO of consultancy group The Format People, who, upon assessing the market and Mongol TV’s competitors, ultimately advised Chinbat to ramp up live programming, introduce a morning show and produce less biased news. Together, the team built two TV studios.
“We made sure that we applied Western TV knowledge to technology and the aspects of TV production and broadcast scheduling in general, so the strategy was mainly to use top American programs – dramas – to put in primetime and build up the local content around that,” said Rodrigue, adding that he brought in 27 international TV specialists to revamp Mongol TV.
Outside of acquiring dramas such as AMC’s Breaking Bad, the broadcaster has focused local production on factual entertainment, specifically formats. A multi-season deal for Got Talent was inked with producers Syco Entertainment and FremantleMedia last December – the most expensive production in the history of Mongolia, says Chinbat – and in January Mongol TV commissioned a local version of the Channel 4 hit Gogglebox, slated to air in December.
“Everyone, from the broadcasters to the viewers, is eager about the content,” says Chinbat, discussing Got Talent. “There’s a lot of curiosity out there, and people want to know who the judges are, so buzz is really high. As a small station, we’re joking that we’re becoming a Mongolia’s Got Talent production rather than a TV station because everybody’s doing something [on the show].”
Going forward, Chinbat hopes the Mongol TV Forum – an industry-wide event she helped to launch in 2014 – will draw international interest to the territory and unite local broadcasters and cable channels. The recent two-day iteration in February garnered 200 industry executives, including five U.S. studios and UK broadcaster ITV, and featured keynotes by government officials and regulatory body representatives as well as panels on global trends and the future for Mongolian television.
Mongol TV announced today (October 5) at MIPCOM that the third annual Mongol TV Forum – coproduced with The Format People – is to be held on February 25 and 26, 2016. The theme for the event is “How will Mongolian broadcasters step up to western standards and anticipate exporting content?”
Though finances continue to be a difficulty for Mongol TV given the country is still in a recession period, Chinbat says her immediate goal is to boost local production.
“Through these kinds of large productions and live content, I’d like the viewers to see what TV and entertainment can bring them,” says Chinbat. “At the moment, we see a lot of political news and issues on our TV, but it could be entertainment and it could be produced in Mongolia.”
Population: Approximately 1.3 billion
Number of television channels: 3,000+
Fierce competition among countless networks and the unpredictable TV regulations of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) continue to shape the Chinese broadcast landscape, but improved communication between the East and West is nurturing a more accessible market that is increasingly open to international rights holders.
Since forming in 2007, Shanghai-headquartered format producer-distributor IPCN has served as something of a bridge between global content providers and the Chinese market, bringing more than 35 formats including The Voice of China and China’s Got Talent into the country.
“I’m constantly educating both sides on how to understand and respect each other,” IPCN CEO Rebecca Yang, who works between London and Shanghai, tells realscreen. “So the West isn’t coming down on their high horses and saying, ‘Those are the things you do, those are the rules,’ and the Chinese are not so closed-minded and arrogant to the extent where they say, ‘Well, there’s nothing to learn from you guys, we can simply copy it.’”
After the successful 2012 debut of The Voice of China on Star China Media, Yang says the company has shifted focus to “aggressively” push into original productions. In 2013, IPCN helped the entertainment media company develop the composing competition Sing My Song, which was distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment in March to Vietnam’s VTV 3, where it premiered in September.
Meanwhile, Yang says IPCN’s next project is a “treasure hunting-travelling type of reality show” shot abroad and created with a UK producer that will launch in October.
Though government restrictions on television production, such as quotas on international formats and domestic content airing in prime-time, are still in place and change constantly, Yang points out that these guidelines also force producers and broadcasters to be more adaptable, and encourage domestic output.
“It’s [SARFT's] way to control things in the safest way,” says the exec. “Sometimes the group comes up with, ‘There’s only four singing shows allowed’ – which I support because otherwise the whole of China will be singing – but sometimes things can be a bit of a strain.”
Over at Star China Media, newly appointed deputy general manager Iris Xia – who took over after Vivian Yin exited the company in July to head FremantleMedia China – says more awareness around the legal use of intellectual property is also improving conditions for the formats market.
“When the production houses and TV stations work closely with the original format licensor, they enjoy the production bible and the supporting team’s full experience,” explains Xia. “When market segmentation proceeds, the rights owner also shares their significant revenue models with the buyer, and co-develop together.”
That’s not to say, however, that attitudes have shifted without criticism. Yang says that when IPCN introduced The Voice of China, many industry leaders said that adapting international formats legally was going to hinder domestic creativity.
“There were voices like that, but I strongly went against it,” said Yang. “Format licensing is a very established international business that didn’t really restrict the British, the Dutch or any of the other countries, so why should it restrict the Chinese?”
In the last two years, an essential change has been China’s evolution as an international buyer. The country has a stronger presence than ever at industry-wide events such as MIPCOM, where buyers are approaching more diverse content providers and also setting their sights on digital programming.
Such moves as public equity and venture capital firm China Media Capital – which bought a stake in IPCN this past April – launching youth-focused smart TV device Wei Jing this past August and attracting investments from Internet companies Alibaba and Tencent point towards more dedicated factual content heading to non-linear platforms.
Population: More than 78 million
Number of television channels: Approximately 635
Though Turkey’s extensive dramatic output has made it one of the world’s largest scripted producers with scripted drama exports now valued at about US$200 million annually, the country’s unscripted business is slowly but surely gaining traction.
Named the country of honor at this week’s MIPCOM market, Turkish exhibitors including TRT, Kanal D, Global Agency and ITV-Inter Medya will step into the spotlight in Cannes with a showcase of dramas, feature films, documentaries and animation, as well as a roster of international-facing formats.
Izzet Pinto, CEO and founder of Istanbul-based distributor Global Agency, founded the company in 2006 with a team of just two. Nine years later, the distributor manages 120 scripted and unscripted projects with a staff of 150, and has built a reputation as a major formats player in the international market.
The exec says global sales for Turkish formats have done exceedingly well in recent years. Unlike the country’s dramatic output, which targets Arabic-speaking markets in the Middle East and CEE in particular, unscripted programming has a wider and more global appeal. As such, titles such as daytime show Shopping Monsters, dating format Perfect Bride and cooking competition series Rivals in Law have proven to be best-sellers for the company.
Most recently, FremantleMedia acquired the rights to the distributor’s singing format It’s Showtime in a deal that covers 20 territories including the UK, U.S. and Australia. Meanwhile, Hungary’s RTL2 is set to air the first international version of the access prime, daily stripped entertainment show.
Asked why Global Agency formats do so well overseas, Pinto attributes the company’s success to “good ideas and unique formats” that often capitalize on characteristics of the local culture. Perfect Bride, for instance, plays off the Turkish tradition of mothers choosing brides for their sons. But despite the success of such programs, unscripted programming has a longer way to go among Turkish audiences, who prefer dramatic offerings.
“Viewers are mostly interested in drama series so even if we have a space for unscripted formats, the viewers are more interested in drama,” says Pinto. “The market is 80% drama and 20% will watch formats.”
At the moment, France and Germany are the top buyers of Turkish content, along with Ukraine, Russia, and, increasingly, China. Meanwhile, over in the U.S., interactive talent show Keep Your Light Shining has been piloted by CBS. Pinto points out that although the distributor sold its drama series Game of Silence to NBC, the American market isn’t as much of a priority as the European market because of fewer season renewals compared to Europe, which produces more episodes.
The focus now is bolstering unscripted sales in Latin America, where Global Agency had great success with scripted series 1001 Nights, which was acquired by almost every territory in the region and opened the door for other Turkish dramas.