MOST Eastern European territories have learned to live with the crisis; there’s still a need for cost-effective content — and nobody’s stopped producing, commissioning or watching formats.

This is the heartening message brought home from DISCOP East by Avi Armoza, CEO and founder of Israel’s Armoza Formats and long-term FRAPA member. The 18th outing of the Central and Eastern Europe’s leading content market took place at the end of June in Budapest, attracting some 365 sellers and 800 buyers to the Hungarian capital.

“We were a bit concerned after DISCOP 2009, which took place at the peak of the crisis,” Armoza says. “But the mood this year was much better. Eastern Europe is not a market you want to give up on — and DISCOP is an important event in terms of meeting customers from the region’s smaller territories. I believe it’s our role as distributors to support these smaller markets.”

Format veteran Michel Rodrigue, IP advisor and broker, and FRAPA steering committee board member, agrees. “I hadn’t been to DISCOP for five years and I was amazed by how much bigger and more active it had become,” he says. “If it’s quality time with Eastern European producers and broadcasters you’re after, it’s definitely the place to go.”

Both Armoza and Rodrigue were flying the flag for FRAPA in Budapest, speaking at a workshop on format creation and protection alongside Ute Biernat, FRAPA chairman and CEO of Grundy Light Entertainment, and Tony Stern, FremantleMedia’s executive vice-president of business affairs, worldwide production.

Using several case studies — Stimulii’s Thumb Wars (agented by Rodrigue), Armoza’s The Frame and FremantleMedia’s Idol – to illustrate the life-cycle of format development, the panel concluded that “the best way to protect your format is to make it a success as soon as possible”, Rodrigue says. “In one sense, it’s only once your format has been aired and exposed to the general public that it has truly been ‘created’. Before that moment, it’s just an idea on a piece of paper — and that’s much easier to steal than a fully formed show.”

The questions from the floor revealed that the main concern for Eastern European producers is the format ‘copycatting’ that is endemic between local markets rather than the threat of international theft — a situation, of course, that could change at the press of a buzzer once the region starts producing formats with global potential. And the number of post-workshop enquiries about FRAPA membership also underlined Eastern Europe’s growing awareness of the need for IP protection.

But Armoza ends on an upbeat note: “I think it’s fair to say that format theft is diminishing around the world, as more and more companies and countries start to develop their own ideas. The bottom line is, you can’t sell formats and rip them off at the same time.”