Mipcom: Unscripted Need Strong Formats Over Familiar Faces to Sell Overseas

Cast your eye across many of the unscripted formats on offer to international buyers at Mipcom and one thing stands out — there are a lot of celebrity-driven titles out there.

Some of the most high-profile international shows coming to market in October are Keshet Intl.’s “Showdown — Aviv/Eyal,” ITV Studios’ “I’ll Get This” and BBC Studios’ “Dancing With the Stars Junior.” All are dependent on talent to attract audiences.

That’s because broadcasters “need talent power” to stand out in a global marketplace that has become so crowded and competitive, says Keshet Intl.’s COO and president of distribution Keren Shahar.

Celebrities are particularly important for fronting unscripted formats in the U.S. and the U.K., she says, whereas some territories including India or Germany are happier to take risks on formats that aren’t talent-driven.
Not all unscripted formats have to be talent-led to succeed though, says Shahar. “A very strong hook in the mechanism of a show will give you the edge,” she says, citing Keshet’s interactive singing format “Rising Star,” which admittedly has celebrity judges.

Her point is backed up by BBC Studios creative director of formats Sumi Connock, who says there has been a rise in big names being attached to unscripted shows, notably in the U.S.

“But we’ve also seen shows with talent flop,” Connock says. “So for me, the format is still king. You could have the biggest talent in the world, but if the format doesn’t hold up, the audience will smell a rat.”

Connock cites two of the biggest format sellers in BBC Studios’ catalog — “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Great Bake Off” — as proof it takes more than big names to nab an audience. “One is talent driven, the other is totally about amateurs,” she points out.

Hiring well-known talent does, of course, allow broadcasters to hedge against some of the risks involved in launching a show.

Shahar says the “Showdown” music format delivered strong audiences to Keshet 12 when it aired over the summer thanks to the wide and very different fan bases of its two celebrity leads.

The series saw Israeli performers Aviv Geffen and Eyal Golan battle to discover singing talent. Both celebrities are outspoken, have a history of clashing in the media, and are also on the opposite sides of the spectrum musically (think Mediterranean melodies vs. Israeli rock), as well as culturally and politically.

Shahar says the format could be rolled out to other territories, using contrasting talents who have clashed before. She cites Kanye West and Taylor Swift as example hosts in the U.S. market.

In contrast, ITV Studios’ “I’ll Get This” is a much less confrontational affair. There’s no host, just five celebrities going out to a restaurant together where they play a series of fun parlor games — and the loser must pick up the tab for the whole group.

ITV Studios’ Global Creative Network managing director Mike Beale describes the format as a “celebrity-chat comedy-vehicle,” which attracts guests who wouldn’t necessarily appear on chat shows because they haven’t got a book to sell, or on panel shows because they are too confrontational.

He thinks the format, which debuts on BBC2 this fall, is also good way for broadcasters to book celebrities in a competitive marketplace, comparing it to shows where talent has to commit for months at a time. “In a crowded world of celebrity formats, ‘Can you make dinner on Thursday night?’, is a much easier conversation to have with the talent,” he says.

Beale says “I’ll Get This” features three types of talent: fresh comedians, reality stalwarts and “national treasures.” “You put people together who would probably never meet — and they seem to have fun,” Beale says.

Connock, meanwhile, says casting for “Dancing With the Stars” is like “putting together the best dinner party you can imagine,” and that only a few of the talents need to be very widely known to help pull in viewers. It’s all about the mix of celebrities, she says. “You may not know all the guests, but there is something about the group and in the end it’s the ones you didn’t know or weren’t sure about that you get closest to.”

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