THE PAST tells you a lot about the future. It adds context, gives perspective and helps explain how and why things happen.
For anybody attempting to second-guess entertainment trends, viewing patterns and the fickle finger of consumer taste, this is valuable information, suggests Dr Jean Chalaby of the media and communications department of City University London, who is currently researching the “global entertainment revolution” triggered by the trade in TV formats.
For the past three years, Chalaby has been interviewing format professionals for a series of articles, which will ultimately be published in book form, on what he calls “the multifaceted, multi-layered, commercial and cultural phenomenon” that is the international format industry. The first article in the series, which tracks the format business’ journey from the ad-hoc horse-trading of the 1950s to today’s €3.1bn global marketplace, has already been published and is available free to FRAPA members (see below for details). The second article, due to be published in February, considers the origins of the global industry, and posits the theory that the TV format trade is, in essence, an Anglo-American invention.
So what inspired Chalaby — a hardcore academic with no hands-on television experience — to immerse himself in television formats? “I’m fascinated by this industry,” he says. “I love its diversity and complexity. I see it as helping to rebalance globalisation by allowing small, independent voices to be heard. Any great idea from any territory, from the smallest to the biggest, has the potential to go global.”
And it could so easily not have happened. If it had not been for the emergence of the four super-formats — Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Survivor, Big Brother and Idols — in the late nineties, chances are the formats trade would have remained a small-time business confined to game shows. In an industry obsessed with finding the next big thing, Chalaby says he has been struck by the profound lack of interest in formats until the epiphany wrought by the ‘The Big Four’. He puts it down to snobbishness: “At that time, television was driven by Hollywood and scripted dramas. In the hierarchy of television, game shows and light entertainment — the genres from which formats sprang — were definitely down at the bottom. I like to think that today’s golden age of formats is the revenge of popular culture.”
Chalaby’s first article — The Making of an Entertainment Revolution — ends with these words: “Formats are like bridges, not merely because they are precisely engineered, but they help cultures reach out to one another.”
It is a thought that will resonate with many FRAPA members.
If you are interested in receiving a free copy of Dr Jean Chalaby’s article, ‘The Making of an Entertainment Revolution: How the TV Format Trade Became a Global Industry’, or being interviewed for his forthcoming book, please e-mail: J.Chalaby@city.ac.uk.