|Simon Ingram: “Technology can’t make a bad format good, but it can make a good format better, while helping to protect your idea”|
DETAIL, detail, detail. This is increasingly the advice to format creators seeking to protect their IP in a legal world that can still be an ass when it comes to recognising television formats as original creative works with a right to protection.
FRAPA has long urged its members to include as much detail — from catchphrases to the colour of the host’s bow tie — as possible in their production bibles and when registering their format concepts. The principle is that, by naming the elements that are unique to your format, you strengthen the proof that you have created a unique and individual concept should you find yourself defending it in a court of law.
But that detail, according to Simon Ingram, co-founder and managing director of UK game-show technology pioneer ionoco, doesn’t have to be seen to be believed. It can also include the invisible but vital technology that powers your format — the software systems and graphical devices that, say, enable you to generate a random set of numbers, make the contestants’ badges flash or allow you select and display input from multiple players or social-media feeds.
“A piece of technology in your show can not only make it unique, but also make it very difficult, in practical terms, to copy,” Ingram says. He cites Endemol’s family game show, Don’t Scare The Hare, which aired last year on BBC One, as a good example of technology defining uniqueness — although not in this case critical success. The titular hare, a 4ft, fully animatronic robot, ran around the studio squeaking and rolling its eyes whenever it was ‘scared’ by a wrong move.
Huge robotic hares are also, Ingram points out, easy to patent — which, he suggests, can add another layer of protection to your format. “A game-show idea is very difficult to patent but technology, being a physical thing, is relatively easy. And once you patent something, you own it. Nobody can copy it,” he says, speculating that, had Hughie Green had the foresight to patent his Opportunity Knocks clap-o-meter, he might well have won his 1989 suit against the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation.
A UK patent, Ingram adds, costs around £5,000 plus legal fees. “That’s not a ridiculous cost in the scale of things. Also, while a patent is pending, nobody can copy your idea, which gives you a level of protection in the early stages of developing a format, when it’s often at its most vulnerable.”
Ingram’s also stresses that, these days, technology is no longer only accessible to those with deep pockets. Ionoco, he says, “prides itself on working with format creators of all shapes and sizes to identify the best way of achieving their editorial vision creatively and, if necessary prototyping it for them”.
And ionoco certainly has the credentials. The company’s co-founder and creative director Chris Goss is an acknowledged expert in game-show graphics and control systems. His software solutions have appeared in more than 1,000 shows in some 60 countries, including such superformats as Millionaire?, Weakest Link and Deal Or No Deal. And Ingram is no slouch either, bringing nearly 20 years of broadcast and production experience to the table. He has launched 17 television channels, mothered through the UK’s first independent red-button service and worked as a light-entertainment producer for the likes of Action Time, Ginger TV, Hat Trick and Celador.
“We understand the pressures of production and editorial, and we understand what’s possible technologically,” Ingram says. “They say in game-show land that there are only seven types of show and all you can do is dress them up in slightly different ways. Chris and I have worked on them all in our time. As a result, we have a lot of different systems, solutions and devices integrated into our platform. Very often, when somebody comes to us with a vision they think is going to be difficult and expensive to achieve, we find we’ve done something very similar already. It just needs a bit of tweaking.”
He adds: “Technology can’t make a bad format good, but it can make a good format better, while helping to protect your idea.”