THE BIGGEST market in the world is opening up to formats. And it is hungry for loud, proud, crowd-pleasing shows capable of delivering billions of eyeballs.
This is the message that Fox LOOK president and FRAPA co-founder David Lyle has brought back from the International Formats Forum (IFF China), which made its debut last month in Beijing.
“The big news is that a major market — and, quite honestly, a market that we have been concerned about for some time in terms of IP recognition — looks to be coming into the format fold,” said Lyle, who treated IFF China’s high-ranking Chinese and international delegates to a keynote on what he has dubbed ‘the reality decade’ — the 10 years that followed the launch of Endemol’s game-changing Big Brother in 1999.
For Lyle, who was also honoured with the first IFF Outstanding Achievement Award in Worldwide Formats in Beijing, the mood in China is reminiscent of the pioneering days of the European format industry. “There’s that same sense of expectancy and discovery,” he said. “It took me back to the MIPCOMs and MIPTVs of the early Nineties, when we were all running around trying to discover the next big format. It’s an exciting climate.”
China’s 32 regional stations, as well as national broadcaster CCTV and broadcasting watchdog SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television) were all represented at IFF China, which bills itself as part festival, part creative contest, part knowledge exchange and part master-class in best practice.
But while China’s major broadcasters are clearly “engaged and hungry for successful formats”, they are proceeding with caution, Lyle said: “As relative newcomers to the formats industry, they are asking the question — and it’s a sensible, when you think about it: ‘What real value am I going to get from paying you a licence fee?’”
The answer, Lyle believes, lies in the fact that they Chinese have not always achieved the sort of success with their talent, reality and game shows that they had expected — and that their intensely competitive regional broadcasters require in the fight for a place on the national satellite, which carries only one channel per province.
“I think China’s conversion to the format business as we know it is because their broadcasters have recognised that those extra elements you get when you acquire a format — bible, production expertise, advice on which aspects of a show to keep and which to localise — are very often what makes the difference between a hit and a mediocre show,” Lyle added.
As for China’s patchy reputation on the IP front, the Fox LOOK chief is pragmatic: “They’ll inevitably be some bumps along the way. As I said in my keynote, there’s a real business reason for getting on board the unscripted-entertainment train and licensing formats rather than copying them — which is that you end up with a valuable, marketable product. In three or four years time, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be going to IFF China not just to sell our shows but to acquire Chinese-originated formats to sell around the world.”