While the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday (Jan. 28) evening may have recognized the best musical artists of the year, a session at Realscreen Summit in Washington earlier that day took a deep analysis into another form of musical appreciation: music competition series.
Moderated by Tim Duffy, co-president of Ugly Brother Studios, a panel of experts discussed how networks and producers can hit the right notes with their music series.
Avi Armoza, CEO of Israeli-based Armoza Formats, discussed the inception of The Four, which recently launched on Fox, while Insight Production Company’s John Brunton shared the details behind the star-focused series The Launch.
Rounding out the session was Spencer Thomas, senior producer with CJ E&M. Thomas shared insight from a South Korean audience, with a particular emphasis on I Can See Your Voice — a series that challenges judges to determine the singing capability of a person based on their appearances.
Here are five takeaways from the session:
It all comes down to storytelling
CEO Avi Armoza says his company has found success with its formats because the company focuses on storytelling. Don’t shrug away a format concept because you think the market is saturated, warned Armoza.
“We’re all aware of the success [of other music competition series.] In the past, it seemed like there was no room for another music show,” he said. “Then came The Voice, and that was able to tell another story.”
In the case of The Voice, producers shifted perspective from a singer’s ability to the power of the judges.
For The Four, Armoza has turned the traditional storytelling narrative for music competition series on its head, beginning where most competition series end: with four finalists.
Americans are lovers and fighters
Thomas and Duffy agreed that the West tends to lean a bit more towards the emotional rather than the comedic when it comes to musical series, pointing to successes such as American Idol and The Voice, where the story behind a contestant aims to pull on audience heartstrings.
But Armoza noted when developing The Four for Fox, the network liked the sports arena atmosphere of the show. “The battle element was something that very much connected with the American culture,” he said.
For Korea’s I Can See Your Voice, Thomas says CJ E&M took the competition out of the series entirely, with entertainment being its sole goal. The result is a format that can travel internationally without many tweaks. “You don’t have to change it much for the West because it culminates in a duet with the celebrity and the singer, so everyone enjoys it.”
Think outside the series
Bell Media-owned CTV took a creative approach when promoting The Launch. Brunton says that originally, the team was apprehensive about the idea of launching a series where a “hit song” was the focus rather than the singer. In order to create a sense of familiarity with the melody, CTV would take the hook of the song that was launching on a future episode and create a version without the vocal track. They would then go on to use that more ambiguous track during their broadcast throughout the day during daytime talk shows and entertainment shows.
“So even though the audience had never heard the song before, they were familiar with the hook long before they watched the episode,” explains Brunton. “We tried to make the music more familiar subliminally before they heard it.”
Keep your eye on multiple industries
Brunton said Insight felt the time was right for The Launch not only because they knew there was an opportunity in television — the stage was set for the series to have some play in the music industry as well.
The first stage came in recognizing that the void American Idol created upon its cancellation – a series focused on a launching a singer’s career – was ready to be filled but with a new kind of series.
Secondly, Brunton pointed to increased cord-cutting and streaming tendencies coinciding with a changing music industry, with companies such as Spotify gaining revenue through subscription services rather than pay-per-song models. “Record labels were starting to make money again, and the pennies they got from Spotify started to add up,” he says.
The Launch is intended to capitalize on all of these opportunities, as a series entirely focused on launching a new pop star, as well as launching a hit song.