THE FORMATS industry is undoubtedly a much safer place in 2012 than it was in 2000 when FRAPA was founded — in the words of its mandate —“to ensure that television formats are respected by the industry and protected by law as intellectual property”.
But anybody who questions that FRAPA still has a role to play in IP protection should look no further than Bulgaria, home of one of FRAPA’s latest members, Art Winner. The Sofia-based independent production company is currently embroiled in what founder and CEO Billyana Trayanova describes as “a very serious case of plagiarism” relating to one of its own-authored formats.
It is, Trayanova admits, the biggest challenge of her career so far — though she is optimistic that FRAPA’s “timely intervention” will help her to triumph over the copycats. “I hope I will be the first format creator in Bulgaria who stood up for their rights — and won,” she adds.
According to Trayanova, Bulgaria remains a hotbed of copycatting, IP theft and “insolent plagiarism”. “It’s rough for format creators to offer their formats to Bulgarian broadcasters because, in most cases, somebody will just take their idea and produce it as their own,” she says.
Trayanova founded Art Winner in 2002, leaving behind a well-established career as a film, TV and stage actress to produce documentaries with a social message. The fledgling company’s first production opened a window on the brutal world of drug addiction — “and it instantly gained hot-topic status”, Trayanova says. Surfing this wave of controversy, Art Winner went on to produce several more hard-hitting documentaries on subjects including alcohol addiction, mental illness and adoption procedures.
The move into formats came in 2006, when Art Winner devised a little travel/reality/game show hybrid called No Luggage. It was another instant hit, punching far above its weight in terms of ratings and recognition. Trayanova says: “For the past three years, No Luggage has been the only show about travel on Bulgarian TV and it’s become one of the most popular programmes on national television.”
Last year saw the launch of a second ratings-beating format — Star Machine — which set out to create Bulgaria’s next national celebrity. Around 1,500 people auditioned for the talent-search show, which debuted on TV7 in November and ended in an Oscar-style red-carpet ceremony in February.
Next up is the reality format Travel’zon, for which Trayanova is currently negotiating with “a major broadcaster”. She adds: “Moving forward, our ambition is to create more original TV formats that not only entertain the public, but also feature a strong educational element and promote a positive, feel-good approach to life.”
First, however, there is the small matter of the plagiarism case be resolved. Trayanova observes that the outcome is significant for the future not only of Art Winner, but for the entire Bulgarian formats industry, which is struggling to take root in an environment where IP theft is, in essence, the default mode. FRAPA, she believes, will be crucial in turning the tide. “When I discovered FRAPA, I saw a helping hand for all TV format creators,” she says. “I’m truly impressed by the way this band of outstanding professionals have grasped the idea of defending intellectual property.”