BEING shortlisted for the heavily subscribed MIPFormats Pitch Competition is an achievement in itself. Finding yourself one of the five finalists with your first in-house developed concept — in this case, the interactive trivia quiz All For One, One For All — is not only cause for celebration but a strong indication that you have a future in formats. No wonder, then, that Janane Mallat, CEO of IPROD, is feeling optimistic. “Our focus on format creation is relatively new, so the MIPFormats Pitch was a major breakthrough,” she says. “We have been looking into broadening our horizon by focusing on formats that are suitable for various markets. The interest generated by All For One, One For All at MIPFormats will encourage us to invest further in this direction.”
Not that IPROD is a stranger to formats per se: since its foundation in 2003, the Beirut-based independent has delivered a string of hit adaptations to the Middle Eastern market, including The X Factor for Rotana, La Chanson Numero Un for Future TV and The Biggest Loser for MBC — still considered to be one of the pan-Arabian broadcast giant’s biggest winners in terms of ratings. Mallat believes that IPROD’s successful track record has much to do with its “deep yet nuanced understanding” of both Lebanon’s history and culture and that of the wider Arab world. “We are rooted in our region,” she says simply. And that region is undoubtedly a complex one, with its territories polarised by petro-dollars, politics and religion. With around four million inhabitants, Lebanon represents a tiny slice of the overall Arab population of some 255 million. And relative to the super-rich Gulf States, it is also on the lower end of the scale in terms of ad spend and purchasing power. The result, Mallat says, is that Lebanese producers are used to being creative on limited budgets — a talent that has made the country the go-to content market for many of the Middle East’s leading networks.
It has also led to a pioneering approach to media, Mallat adds. “The first private and totally independent Arab TV station was launched in Lebanon in 1985,” she observes. “Moreover, the format business made its way into the Middle East through Lebanese television. In 1999, a Case Production format called La Fureur, which is now part of Endemol’s catalogue, aired on LBC1.” She adds: “Lebanon has always been more open to the West, with a liberal culture that allows more freedom of expression and a touch of daring.”
But for all Lebanon’s sophistication, format theft remains a concern. “Although Lebanon has signed protocols related to the protection of intellectual property, there has been no clear will nor a resolute commitment to implementing those laws,” Mallat says. “Piracy is rampant, whether in the music industry, the film business or television. There’s still a lot to do to instil the notion of IP and how essential it is for economic growth.”
But FRAPA’s support on the IP protection front is only one of its attractions as far as Mallat is concerned. Equally important is access to information, practical help in the form of the Price Calculator, and the Contract and Bible Generators, community interaction and the exchange of expertise. “IPROD is a small company operating in a small country, but we have big goals, a strong will and a capacity to achieve,” Mallat concludes. “But we are realistic enough to realise that the future of our company lies in balancing the creative with the commercial.” FRAPA, she believes, will help IPROD to achieve that goal.