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Israel’s Major Export: TV Know-How

Keshet programming now on five continents

For several years, Israel has been at the forefront of countries exporting TV program content to the United States. Keshet, where Showtime’s “Homeland” has its roots, holds the lion’s share of responsibility.

Keshet holds 42% of the Israeli market share and boasts a prolific global distribution and production arm with U.K., Canadian and Australian outposts.

It’s a stamp that works across many cultures and has translated to successful programming on five continents. Keshet Intl. managing director Alon Shtruzman calls it “edgy mainstream,” comparing Keshet’s success to the local technology boom of the 1990s that was exported to Silicon Valley and earned Israel the nickname of “Start-Up Nation.”

“Israel is lacking natural resources. We don’t have any gas or oil, and we hardly have any land — it’s a small country,” says Shtruzman. “So what we sell is brains. The same way we sell technology, whether it’s software or hardware, we’re also selling media.”

What sets Keshet apart, say its execs across the world, is a desire to push content straight to the sharpest corner of the razor’s edge. Such was the case in “BeTipul,” reborn in the U.S. as HBO’s “In Treatment” and known as the first Israeli format to truly strike gold abroad; in groundbreaking “Homeland” ancestor “Prisoners of War,” which earned such accolades that it has now been released to international audiences with English subtitles; and even with popular gameshow fare like “Deal With It.”

“There is a creative energy and storytelling that flows through many Keshet shows that appeal to North American audiences,” says Keshet Canada exec director Mark Rubinstein.

Keshet comprises a broadcaster on Israel’s Channel 2, a music channel, digital arm Mako (which includes a mobile site, e-commerce, and the cross-platform venture Screenz) and Keshet Intl.

Prisoners of War” creator Gideon Raff is in Morocco lensing a high drama series for FX, “Tyrant,” which is being helmed by David Yates and for which Keshet is serving as an executive producer. Unscripted formats include “Dear Neighbors,” which was sold to 13 countries, “Girlfriends” (beloved in the U.K.), talent show “Master Class,” the family game show “Sure or Insure” and talent competition fare like “The Successor,” fronted internationally by Uri Geller.

Last year, Keshet inaugurated an annual international conference on innovation in television, dubbed INTV, that brings  several leading TV and new-media execs to Jerusalem to hash out their visions on the future of content in the digital age. The time is ripe, Shtruzman says, for Keshet to be leading the way in envelope-pushing TV.

“U.S. television has really evolved over the last decade, for many reasons including the amazing explosion of cable,” he says. “It’s a platform for creators to dare more. … For us, it’s like a theme park.”

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