As a format makes its way around the world, just how integral is the U.S. market to its success? If you ask Armoza Formats CEO Avi Armoza (pictured above, left) and Keshet International CEO Alon Shtruzman, it may not be so important any more.
In a Realscreen Summit session entitled “Keeping it Real: When Formats Go Global” – moderated by Sky Vision MD Jane Millichip – the Israeli execs were among a group of panelists discussing the trajectory of formats on the world stage.
The issue was particularly salient given the poor ratings in the U.S. for Keshet’s interactive talent show Rising Star – which was also scrapped by UK broadcaster ITV in September 2014 ahead of broadcast – as well as Fox’s cancellation of social experiment show Utopia in November.
However, despite the unsavory track records for those series in the U.S., Armoza and Shtruzman say they don’t place as much emphasis as they used to on their shows’ outcomes Stateside.
“Selling in the U.S. is obviously a game-changer for a format, but having said that I think it’s less and less,” said Shtruzman, pointing out that 10 years ago when the market was less cluttered, you had to go to the U.S., but with more international players in the formats business, the landscape is changing.
“Now, especially in big markets like Argentina, Mexico, France and the UK, they’re developing local tastes and obviously docusoaps and docu-reality are much more character- and story-driven, so casting is coming in a big way,” the exec added. “So I would say, yes, the U.S. is still the billboard for big shows, but we can definitely [still be okay] without the U.S.”
Echoing Shtruzman’s sentiments, Armoza added: “From a commercial point of view, the U.S. is an important market… it can be a game-changer, but in the end, it is just another market.”
Turning her attention to Rising Star, Millichip said: “Broadcasters flocked to the live recording and there was a great deal of excitement about this format when it was launched in the international market. But I think it’s fair to say that the performance internationally has been mixed.”
Rising Star, Shtruzman explained, is an interesting story.
“Whether it was a big success or a modest success in the U.S. or the UK, the market for Rising Star is different,” he said. “It was a very, very bold move. Keshet took a very bold move by putting it on the air, and it succeeded… Bottom line, if you look at American television – especially networks – in the last decade, it looks pretty much the same.”
Shtruzman noted that things are changing in the U.S. with younger execs stepping in and making changes, as well as an aggressive push by cable, but maintained that “disruption and innovation in the U.S. stays on paper.”
In terms of what went wrong with the American Rising Star, Millichip asked panelist Jason Sarlanis – ABC Entertainment’s VP of alternative sales – how much East and West Coast time zones and the challenge of integrating such logistics into the show’s interactive element came into play.
“When they bought it, I can tell you that there was a sense that, ‘we’ll figure out how to make this work.’ It’s been done before, like when Dancing was in a single time zone. I don’t think we got the perfect answer to it. I think we can innovate again and figure out how to do the multiple time zones in a different way that will be satisfying to everybody. Looking back, there are different ways we could have handled that.”
Ultimately, when asked whether a changing climate for reality has affected Keshet’s ability to sell into the U.S. market, Shtruzman said it was the opposite.
“We have changed our business and become much more vertically integrated… Now it’s about the packaging,” he said. “So if you’re a big player, you can’t just sell a format, you need to sell the packaging. That’s why we set up outposts in Australia, the UK and America. That’s why when we pitch the U.S. we don’t pitch the format, we pitch the package.”
In response, panelist Greg Lipstone – a partner with ICM – opined that, “not everything’s going to work in the U.S. Our audience is very savvy and you have one shot with them. If you get them on that first episode and they like what they see, they’ll be back. And if you don’t, they will never come back. There is no chance. So at the end of the day, no matter what your show is, the audience is not going to be force-fed.”