It hasn’t always been easy to sell a format from paper, but that’s changing as the demand for new formats rises, and producers and distributors seek out fresh ideas.
That was the premise of “Paper Formats: More Opportunities Than Ever,” a panel at MIPFormats on Saturday (April 6).
The panel was hosted by Danny Fenton, CEO of Zig Zag Productions.
Speakers were Izzet Pinto, founder and CEO of the Global Agency; Sumi Connock, creative director of formats at BBC Studios; Nathalie Wogue, a partner at Ascendo TV; and Fotini Paraskakis, EVP of entertainment at the Story Lab.
Each panelist had a hit format to talk about, and they all had one thing in common: they were sold as ideas on paper.
“For paper formats, it’s all about patience,” said Pinto, who stressed that it’s certainly not as easy to sell a show when it’s still so green, and that it took time to sell his game show/talent format The Legend.
The Legend features singers performing a hit song. The twist is that each singer can perform up to three times to increase their score based on feedback from judges—or lower their score if the quality of their performance suffers.
There’s also a need to stand out if you’re coming to the table with a paper pitch. “We wanted to mix game show with talent,” said Pinto, stressing that his show couldn’t fit too neatly into a box if it was going to work.
That was a line of thought echoed by everyone, including Connock, who commissioned Dating Detectives, a dating show that uses real-world policing techniques to investigate potential suitors. “With dating formats, it’s really hard to find something new. There are so many dating formats out there,” she said. Giving the show a true crime edge fixed that problem.
BBC Studios actually has a “Paper to Pitch” fund to encourage working with new creative partners through paper pitches. Knowing she wanted a dating show, Connock had a look at Zig Zag’s paper pitch for Dating Detectives as a way to find the right series to invest in.
Wogue, for her part, sold a new format that sees families sending their eldest members on surprise vacations, making them get out of their comfort zones and try new and exciting things, while their kids and grandkids watch from home as they bungee jump, water ski and more.
The show has an obvious appeal for family viewing and feels unlike anythings else. It can be summarized quite simply. A strong idea can come through immediately and forcefully.
Paper formats are also a great way to find new blood, as is part of Story Lab’s mandate. “We directly invest in young or just passionate creatives and producers, who have got great content to make,” said Paraskakis, who bought Street Stars (pictured) from two young creators. The show follows street performers, mixing the polish of a shiny-floor talent show and the rough-edged individuality of street performance.
The strength of paper was echoed later in the day, during a keynote event with Jeff Apploff, EP and CEO at Apploff Entertainment.
Apploff prefers to work from paper, he said, since it offers so much flexibility.
“When you start with a piece of paper,” he said, “you start with nothing.”
From there, you can take a project in any direction, depending on feedback and partnerships that might materialize along the way.
The stakes are lower with paper, and so while conventional wisdom may have treated paper pitches as risky business in the past, there’s a growing desire for fresh ideas at their earliest stages. Producers and distributors are seeing them as great opportunities.