Primetime’s import surges globally

Foreign markets target formats to boost evenings

The rest of the world’s networks aren’t so different than ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox. They all want to gather the biggest audiences in primetime that they possibly can.

But while that might seem like an obvious goal, it’s only recently become a global trend.

“America’s an oddity (in focusing on primetime),” says Rob Clark, president of worldwide entertainment at Fremantle Media. “Elsewhere in the world, networks are networks all day long.

“As advertising revenues have decreased, often what’s suffered are not necessarily budgets or the desire to create major primetime events, (but) the other parts of the schedule, such as daytime and access. Primetime is becoming more and more important to broadcasters across the world, and that suits Fremantle.”

That suits Fremantle because it sells some of the world’s most popular formats, both in terms of the number of countries that air Fremantle’s shows and in terms of the sheer volume of people that watch these shows. Big, shiny, entertainment floor shows such as “Idol,” “Got Talent” and now “X Factor” gather viewers in record numbers and make a worldwide splash.

When Susan Boyle appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent,” for example, YouTube quickly turned her into an international phenomenon.

“The importance of the Internet for a format like ‘Got Talent’ cannot be underestimated,” says Clark. “Once Susan Boyle became that big international success, we sold a phenomenal number of ‘Got Talents’ in new territories last year. It’s now launching in Mediterranean Europe, and there have been a whole slew of Asian sales as well.”

While those big floor shows don’t show any signs of slowing down — “American Idol” numbers in the U.S. remain huge, and “X Factor” is due to debut here in 2011 — they are all aging. That’s driving buyers to look far and wide for the next big thing.

“There’s starting to be a tremendous need for a new format within this genre,” says Karoline Spodsberg, managing director at Banijay Intl. “Everyone is waiting for someone to put something new on the air.”

One format distributors are keeping an eye on is Shine Intl.’s “MasterChef.” The show is hardly new — it premiered on the BBC in 1990 — but Shine shook up the format and the new version took off, with nearly 80% of the TV audience in Australia watching the recent local finale. In the U.S., a version with Gordon Ramsay attached is being developed for Fox.

Other hot shows in the cooking and food segments include ITV Studios’ “Come Dine With Me.”

“Cooking is very of the moment,” says Shine president Chris Grant.

Shine also is shopping a show called “Got to Dance,” which premiered on the U.K.’s Sky 1 in December and doubled the timeslot’s audience. CBS purchased the show from Shine in late March.

“That’s probably our most important format right now,” Grant says.

Factual reality shows — or unscripted shows that feel like documentaries — also are gaining traction across the world. The success of CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” in particular, is spurring interest in workplace shows, says Nordisk’s Spodsberg.

“In the factual genre, viewers identify with the people they see there,” she says. “It’s relatable.”

“Undercover Boss,” developed by Studio Lambert, was a huge hit on the U.K.’s Channel 4 last year. Its popularity in the U.S. has turned the show into one of TV’s hottest formats headed into Mip.

“A show has to be successful in the U.S. or the U.K. before anyone wants it,” says Paul Gilbert, senior vice president of international formats for CBS Studios Intl. “No one wants to take a chance until they see how it works elsewhere.”

That’s probably why known formats with successful track records — from “Jeopardy!” to “Idol” — remain among Mip’s most popular.

“I’m not necessarily going to shout about ‘Family Feud’ or ‘Price Is Right’ at Mip, but actually most of our sales at Mip or follow-on from Mip are from our catalog,” Clark says. “Last year, some of our biggest-selling shows were some of our old gameshows. They make for good recession-friendly, family-friendly TV.

“Mip is not just about the new, even though that’s what everyone shows up there shouting about. When you get into the nitty-gritty of talking to broadcasters, it’s really about shows that everyone has known their whole lives.”

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