A NEW collective of Russian format producers is set to launch, driven by the need to protect Russian IP in a market that still has an ambiguous relationship with piracy — and the growing realisation among Russian format players that there is much to be gained from presenting a united shop front to the world.
The move is the initiative of Alexandra Modestova, founder of the Moscow-based independent media consultancy Akimbo, which launched in 2006 and specialises in the development and promotion of Russian entertainment content.
“Protecting any IP is difficult in Russia, and formats are the most difficult IP of all to protect,” Modestova says. “Until you actually have a show on air, it’s almost impossible to defend it under Russian law. That means that formats are particularly vulnerable before they air. And it also means that producers have do a lot of expensive and time-consuming development work before they dare to go public with a format.”
Fortunately, Russia’s formats community is still small — Modestova estimates there are currently about 10 “potentially serious” players on the market — which results in a certain amount of social control. “Everybody knows everybody and knows what everybody’s doing,” she adds. “That makes it more difficult to get away with a rip-off.”
Not, however, quite difficult enough – hence Modestova’s group initiative, which she hopes will be up and running by MIPFormats in Cannes next April.
Meanwhile, Modestova — whose client roster includes MIPTV and MIPCOM organiser Reed MIDEM — reports that the Russian format market is developing fast. Russia needs to find some 175,000 hours of programming a year to feed its 20 free-to-air and around 300 cabsat channels — and formats are seen by many broadcasters as the solution, not least because Russia’s large domestic production industry is skilled at reversioning international product for local audiences.
“We Russians like formats very much,” Modestova adds — a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the format super-indies, most of whom are now present in the territory. With the likes of Endemol, FremantleMedia, Tulpa, Zokiak and Banijay selling their formats to the major broadcasters, Modestova advises smaller, unknown producers with Russian aspirations to target the second-tier channels.
She also urges caution and realism: “It takes persistence, patience, time and local market knowledge to break into Russia — and that means you need a local partner. For a small producer without track record, my recommendation would be go to go to one of the big format-acquiring companies like Endemol or FremantleMedia, or deal with a local player who has liaisons with existing channels. And that will also help to ensure that your format won’t be stolen before it makes it to air.”
As for the genres that are currently playing well with Russian viewers, Modestova cites cooking, dating, money-quest, medical and — one of the hottest trends of 2011 — courtroom/reality formats such as Judge Judy. Despite being relatively old formats, the Gordon Ramsay superformats MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen have only recently appeared on Russian screens, supporting Modestova’s view that the Russian market tends to lag “a bit behind the rest of the world” when it comes to following trends.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects in terms of reality and talent shows continue to do the business, and the smart money — Modestova’s included — is on The Voice as being the Next Big Thing. It is not yet clear, however, which channel will succeed in picking up the show.
Interestingly, there’s a view among Russian programming executives that Russian audiences don’t like watching ‘normal’ people on television. “It is considered that we prefer to see celebrities on our screens,” Modestova says, suggesting that this is why The Apprentice never really off in Russia. “Plus, it’s difficult to find Russians with money who are prepared to talk about it on television. It’s just not part of our culture.”