Fremantle Italy Masterpiece TV Show

The boldest new format that FremantleMedia will be hawking at Mip is Italy’s “Masterpiece,” touted as the world’s first talent show for wannabe writers. Perhaps more important, “Masterpiece” stems from changes under way at Fremantle’s growing Italo outpost.

Before being rebranded in 2010 as FremantleMedia Italia, the company, then called Grundy, was known for producing long-running Italian soap “Un posto al sole” and police procedural “La squadra.”

Over the past three years, Fremantle Italia topper Lorenzo Mieli has shifted the company’s focus to formats, and developed a business model in which sponsors are becoming an integral part of the production process — on original productions as well as advertiser-funded adapted shows like “The X Factor,” “Italia’s Got Talent,” “Project Runway” and the upcoming Italo version of “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” now in advanced development (although Fremantle Italia is mum on possible underwriters). Among “Masterpiece’s” prime backers is Italo publishing house Bompiani.

“Financing for production these days doesn’t just come from broadcasters,” Mieli says. “It comes from external investors that can be record companies or companies with other tie-ins — or from sponsors who become partners. This a virtuous dynamic because it clearly defines the type, the target and the identity of these shows.”

In November, Fremantle Italy launched a branded entertainment unit that oversees Italo versions of “Project Runway,” with L’Oreal and Renault onboard; “The Apprentice,” whose many sponsors include Groupon; and videogame-based series “GT Academy,” which counts Sony Playstation and Nissan in the mix. It also launched local docudrama series “Guerrieri” (Warriors), which chronicles the lives of young people amid Italy’s economic crisis. The show, sponsored by Italo energy giant Enel, aired on broadcast channel La 7 and was developed in tandem with a multi-media campaign for Enel conceived by Saatchi & Saatchi.

Mieli says that 30% of Fremantle Italia’s production costs are covered  by these deals, noting that advertisers are becoming “the third prong sustaining our productions,” after broadcasters and Fremantle itself.

Also under Mieli, “X Factor” and “Italia’s Got Talent” are now both back under the Fremantle Italy production wing after having been produced by outside shingles for RAI and Mediaset’s Canale 5, respectively. Now both shows will be aired on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox.

“Airing ‘X Factor’ on pay TV seemed like a very risky proposition at first,” Mieli says. But “X Factor’s” impact on social media is greater on Sky. More important, Mieli says, its advertising profit is greater on the feevee, even thought the actual TV ratings are lower (1 million viewers on average on Sky vs. 2.2 million on pubcaster RAI). That’s because the audience base is wealthier, and in some cases, Sky Italia can charge advertisers more for certain products. “Sky is such a specific high-end target that advertisers prefer it,” Mieli says.

As for “Masterpiece,” in which Bompiani will publish a massive 100,000-copy run of the winning novel, it marks the first potentially hot Italo format unveiled by Fremantle at the Cannes mart. The show bowed in November to decent ratings on RAI, reaching a 5.14 average share, scoring social media buzz, prompting notice in the New York Times and instigating heated debate among British literati in the Guardian.

Mieli says he’s gotten calls from publishers around the world about the show, which bodes well for its export prospects. Now the clincher will be how well sales go on the winning novel, which was revealed on the series’ March 30 finale.

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