MipTV: Buyers Addicted to Old Formats, With New Twist

Competition has worldwide appeal — especially shows with interactive elements

Big Brother

As television types head to MipTV (April 8-11), they’re finding traditional formats are returning with a twist — and that twist usually consists of interactivity or social media.

To that end, “Big Brother” is making a comeback across the globe, with a Brazilian broadcaster airing the show in 3D and a Spanish broadcaster allowing people to compete for a slot in the house on Facebook. Pop Idol is returning to the air in Turkey. And distributors have taken notice of the resurgence of “Family Feud,” which is a bonafide hit in domestic syndication with host Steve Harvey.

“I think that traditional games are going to come back with little spins and hooks and twists to make them feel fresher,” says Chachi Senior, CEO of Ardaban, the format label owned and operated by Shine America.

“Culturally, what’s happening right now is that everything has a game element to it. I recently watched E!’s ‘Fashion Police,’ and one of the most interesting parts of that series is when they turn it into a quiz show. ‘Jimmy Fallon’ plays games on his show three nights a week. The next wave of shows will be a throwback to the past, with formats such as ‘Family Feud,’ ‘The Price Is Right,’ ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ given a forward spin to include tablets and devices.”

Gameshows offer several advantages that other formats — even the wildly popular singing shows — do not. No other format lends itself as well to playing along online or on a tablet, and social media is easy to integrate. Games can also create spinoff merchandising lines — such as board games or apps — that can bring in big bucks.

While traditional games are poised to come back, TV producers also are looking at the popularity of games on Facebook and on other online destinations and wondering how they can turn those addictive properties into equally addicting gameshows. Whoever cracks that code will have big hits on their hands.

“Us gameshow creators are constantly looking at the stuff that everyone is playing online and then trying to license those games,” Senior says. “We try to figure out what makes them so hooky and addictive and them put them on television.”

One thing that Senior knows: It will be important for everyone to be connected to the game — and each other — for these tech-twisted formats to really work.

“The group-play experience is so important,” Senior says. “As ratings dwindle on actual television, the only way to get a mass audience is to have them all connected somehow.

“All games will eventually land there as technology advances and you can actually play live.”

Games are one obvious way for TV to crack the digital code, but producers are considering all sorts of angles as they eye the future.

“International broadcasters are always looking for ways to engage their viewers and allow them to interact with a show,” says Warner Bros. Intl. Television prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger. “They are very focused on what digital applications might be available, and what rights we’ll grant them to do these things. Anything that binds a fan to a show, (that) extends their experience beyond the viewing and keeps them coming back next week and next year, is a good thing.”

While integrated apps are one way to up engagement, that idea also applies to social media, which tends to spring up more organically around a show. If people like a show, they want to talk about it.

“If you want to participate in the chat rooms and blogs immediately after a show, you have to watch it in real time or you won’t be part of the conversation,” Schlesinger says. “Millennials want to watch at their convenience, but because they want to participate in everything that happens afterwards, social media drives (them) back to the broadcast in real time.”

While Warner Bros. wants to encourage that phenomenon, it does cause a bit of trouble. Many shows air in the U.S. six months to a year earlier than they air internationally (much as “Downton Abbey” airs months earlier in the U.K. than it does Stateside). Fans of American television abroad often can find out what’s happening in a show, via the Internet, long before the show airs in their country, and that encourages pirating.

To battle that, Warner Bros. allows some on-demand viewing of certain shows right after those episodes air in the U.S. Allowing foreign fans to purchase episodes of a series right after they air in the U.S. keeps those fans interested too and helps them avoid spoilers.

“If you really are a fan and the network in the country that you are in isn’t airing the show yet, there’s a way other than pirating the show that will allow you to watch it,” Schlesinger says. “We do that in conjunction with the local broadcaster. It actually helps them keep their audiences engaged in content that they are paying for anyway.”

Popular content that started on the Internet or even as a videogame is also making its way to TV screens.

Content’s “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” began as a shortform series on YouTube’s Machinima network. The series was so successful online that Content packaged the episodes and sold them across the globe as a feature to homevideo, pay TV and video-on-demand markets, says Jonathan Ford, Content’s executive vice president of television and digital.

“This is a slightly new model. “Halo 4” is one of the first properties that we’ve taken out that first aired on a YouTube-funded channel,” Ford says. “This show, which is driven by a strong brand, has helped prove that there is an economic model for entertainment beyond the traditional TV windows.”