Unscripted execs touted the strength of visual-centric formats at MIPFormats on Saturday (April 6), during a panel on visual effects.
The panel was hosted by David Ciaramella, communications manager at K7 Media. Speakers were Glenn Hugill, managing director of Possessed; David Flynn, co-founder of Youngest Media; and Yann Paquet, VP of Quebecor Content/Quebecor Contenu.
A common theme was the need to look past visuals, even if your show has a visual hook. Big, flashy formats can only do so much heavy lifting.
“These shows, when they have heart, they can keep an audience,” said Flynn. “The visuals get people through the doors, but it’s the heart that then keeps them watching,” said Flynn.
His own Youngest Media produces Small Fortune, a game show in which contestants compete in tiny games while looking like giants. It was commissioned by ITV in the UK and NBC in the U.S. The sets are a huge — pardon the pun — part of the show, and they need to look great.
Similarly, Hugill’s Catchpoint takes trivia and gives it a visual flair. Contestants answer a multiple choice question by standing in front of a screen corresponding to their answer, then a ball is released from above the screen where the right answer is located. The closer one is to the right answer, the closer they are to the ball, making it easier to catch the ball and win the round.
“One of the things about making highly visual shows is that sometimes once you’ve got your centerpiece, actually that’s all you need,” said Hugill.
For Yann Paquet, who produces Dance Revolution, technology sets the stage for great storytelling, where a 360-degree camera rig takes “revolutionary” photos of dancing contestants. While that makes for gorgeous set pieces, it also allows the dancers and judges to look at and discuss dance moves in ways that are impossible without the photo process.
“The idea was not just to create a visual effect but to also influence the storytelling of the shows,” said Paquet.
While any talk of visual effects inspires visions of expensive blockbusters, the panelists agreed that bigger isn’t always better, and that their own visually-driven formats are extremely scalable for smaller markets with fewer resources.
“TV was going bigger and bigger and bigger, and what appealed to ITV and NBC about this show is it flips it on its head,” said Flynn, of Small Fortune, which quite literally went smaller and smaller.
Each show can be made on a budget, maintaining a unique visual flair while avoiding an impossible VFX budget. That’s important, because audiences want more experimentation and visually stand-out series, according to the panelists.
According to Hugill, the future of formats is bold. “I think people are sick of vanilla,” he said. “I think we’ve had 10 years of vanilla that’s been dictated by too much feedback from social media. All of us, just because we want to please people and we want people to love our formats, we tried to please all of the people all of the time, which you cannot do.”
Visually audacious programming has the potential to break the industry out of that funk, he said.