NOT MANY producers come with better format credentials than Strix.
In 1997, the Stockholm-based creative shop unleashed a docu-soap-on-a-desert-island on an unsuspecting world. It was called Expedition Robinson and it was swiftly pulling in huge audiences for SVT Sweden. Credited with launching the adventure reality genre, Expedition Robinson went on to beget one of the most successful formats of all time: Mark Burnett’s mighty Survivor, now in its 24th season on CBS.
The world sat back and wondered what Strix would do for an encore — Strix responded in 2001 with The Farm, a stripped reality series that transports 12 contestants to an idyllic yet primitive farm, where they must learn to live off the land without the help of such modern conveniences as electricity, running water, sanitation, mobile phones and dial-a-pizza.
Next up was The Bar, in which 10 contestants take over a downtown bar and turn it into the city’s coolest destination; and the reality talent show Floor Filler, which follows 24 young men and women as they train to become professional dancers.
Not only did all these formats outperform Big Brother in the territories in which they met but, according to Strix CEO Calle Jansson, The Farm remains in the top-five reality formats in terms of sales 11 years after its debut on Sweden’s largest commercial channel.
“The Farm is still going strong, with every year bringing a handful of new deals,” Jansson adds. “It was commissioned last year in Brazil, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, Norway and Colombia. And, in 2012, it will air again on TV4 Sweden, the channel where it all started.”
Last year also saw Strix close its first US format deal for the design make-over show Home Takeover, a local version of which premiered last March on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. And set for a MIPTV 2012 debut are a trio of promising new titles — the gritty reality series Over The Top (10 x 46 mins), which sees 14 participants pit themselves against nature, each other and their own personal demons; Stalkers, which investigates and confronts real-life stalkers in an effort to stop the nightmare; and Game On, in which innocent passers-by find themselves competing in a variety of games they have no idea are taking place.
Strix is therefore no stranger to the cut and thrust of international deal-making — nor, one would assume, the challenge of protecting its formats from pirates and predators. What, then, prompted it to join the FRAPA community at this relatively late stage?
Jansson’s response is short and to the point: “It’s a jungle out there,” he says. “IP and format theft is affecting our OH [overhead] costs more than we would have believed possible several years ago. Entertainment lawyers are very busy these days.”
Given the string of format hits to have come out of the Nordic territories in recent years, Jansson is right to feel protective about his increasingly sought-after IP. The world’s eyes are currently trained on Nordic producers, with their gift for producing quality content on limited budgets, and their willingness to push the creative and technological boundaries. Moreover, Scandinavia is seen as a something of a ‘nesting and testing’ ground for new formats. The region’s educated and critical audiences mean that, if a format works locally, it is likely to work globally.
Domestically, locally produced and developed content is gaining traction, broadcaster budgets are rising, and a boom in the number of niche channels is doubling the volume of local programming needed — all of which is good news for Strix, with its “mastery of local storytelling”. Harnessed to its global track record, this is a potent combination. “It makes our development process unique,” Jansson says.
He ends with another succinct message to his fellow FRAPA members: “Protect your IP with your life. Pay for and invest more in development. And keep your eye on Strix…”