FRAPA flies the flag for formats at MIPCOM 2009

This month’s newsletter looks at FRAPA’s headline acts for MIPCOM 2009: the publication of its hotly anticipated report, TV Formats To The World and the 2009 incarnation of the C21 Media/FRAPA Format Awards, featuring “the most influential man in British television”, Peter Bazalgette.


FRAPA’s new 14-territory report, TV Formats To The World, which makes its official debut at MIPCOM, is expected to confirm what the industry already knows — that the trade in TV formats is growing exponentially. But prepare to be astonished, writes Joanna Stephens, by the exact dimensions of a global marketplace that is supersizing by the year.

AT THE end of the summer, formats hit the UK news headlines two days running. The first bulletin concerned the new line-up of Strictly Come Dancing, the jewel in the BBC’s light-entertainment crown and something of a national obsession. The second news flash informed the nation that Big Brother would bow out next year, Channel 4 having courageously decided that, after 11 series, its monster format has finally reached “a natural end”.

The point is this: formats are the biggest, most influential shows on television. They drive schedules and create conversations. They make headlines, stars and an awful lot of money. And they are among the biggest brands on the planet.

So isn’t it about time they were taken more seriously? David Lyle, president of Fox Reality Channel and FRAPA co-founder, certainly thinks so — and he also believes that the new FRAPA-commissioned report, TV Formats To the World, which will be launched at a special panel presentation at MIPCOM on October 6, will add the hard facts to the anecdotal evidence that formats are now a key driver of the global television business.

“The FRAPA report will show that formats aren’t a passing trend, like padded shoulders or flared pants,” Lyle says. “The fact is that formats are here to stay and they make a major contribution to the TV business. We’re not going to look back on the fashion for formats and wonder what we were thinking… Au contraire: formats are a cornerstone of contemporary television. I’d even go so far as to say that modern TV couldn’t survive without successful, reliable, track-tested formats that plug into local sensibilities and delight local audiences. As a result, it’s time we got the respect we deserve from our scripted brethren and the corporate world.”

Personally, Lyle says he will be “astounded” if FRAPA’s second study into the global trade in formats — the first was published in 2004 in co-operation with Screen Digest — does not reveal “seismic shifts” in the market’s volume and value. If the first FRAPA study was a pivotal moment in the formats industry’s evolution, marking its transition from an exclusive ‘gentleman’s club’ to a whopping €2.4bn-a-year business, the 2009 study is likely to confirm that formats are ready to take their place at television’s top table.

But as with all progress, there is a price. Lyle regrets the passing of “the little industry we all knew and loved, when you could get the entire formats world into a couple of bars and restaurants”. Now, he adds, the formats industry is a huge global juggernaut, driven by powerful multinational concerns such as FremantleMedia, Endemol and De Agostini.

“I think the report will also underline the growth in the number of territories that are now involved in the formats business,” Lyle adds. “Alongside all the countries you’d think of in terms of format creativity — the US, the UK, the Netherlands — we are also seeing more and more formats from regions that you wouldn’t have thought of, such as Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.”

Ute Biernat, chairman of FRAPA and CEO of Grundy Light Entertainment, agrees that, geographically, ‘formatland’ is now a borderless state. But she also believes that TV Formats To The World is likely to shatter some urban myths: “There are a lot of perceptions about markets that are not based in fact. For example, people think the telenovela business is roaring ahead down in Argentina, which isn’t strictly true. On the other side of the coin, I think people will be surprised by how vivid and vibrant the formats market is in many of the ‘non-traditional’ format territories. But generally, there’s a lot of new and interesting information in the study — and a lot of astonishing new directions.”

The implications of those ‘astonishing new directions’ will be discussed during a special FRAPA panel session, held immediately after the report presentation by TV Sisters’ Sonja Behrens and Elfi Jäger. Entitled Global Format Market Update, the session will feature Biernat, Lyle, FRAPA ‘godfather’ and format-industry veteran Michel Rodrigue and Virginia Mouseler, managing director of the global research agency The WIT, which provided the format-export data that formed the bedrock of the report. Also on hand to discuss the growing significance of formats within the ‘content ecosystem’ will be Behrens and Jäger, whose journalistic office undertook the heroic task of analysing The WIT data, scrutinising the changing producer/distributor landscape in the 14 countries under review, and compiling the final ???-page [HOW LONG?] report.

“Everybody has done a tremendous job,” Biernat says, reflecting on the months of meticulous work that has gone into producing TV Formats For The World. “Also, it’s a real FRAPA initiative. Most of our members helped to deliver on-the-ground information on their markets. Without their input, we could not have achieved such a reliable and comprehensive overview.”

While the new FRAPA report throws the spotlight on the format industry’s commercial achievements, the annual C21/FRAPA Format Awards celebrate its creative successes. As Lyle puts it: “The report on the one end and the awards on the other are a bit like bookends to the formats industry: one is looking down at the global market and its bulk from above; the second is looking up at specific formats and the individuals who create them.”

The event takes place on October 7 at a gala ceremony at ClubC21 and is expected to be attended by around 250 MIPCOM delegates. “Now in their third year, the C21/FRAPA Format Awards have become a real MIPCOM tradition and one of the centrepieces of the week in Cannes,” Biernat says.

Other than a structural nip ‘n’ tuck — “We’ve done a bit of streamlining in terms of categories,” Lyle reports — the 2009 C21/FRAPA Format Awards are sticking to their winning formula. David Jenkinson, C21’s editor-in-chief and managing director, elaborates: “The reason why our awards reflect and reward international creativity is that they are the first to see television programming judged by the international community at large, not by a small panel of pundits or experts. Clips of the candidate formats are made available to screen via our C21screenings portal and voted on by the global industry. This is true peer recognition and the only way to find and reward the best. These awards usher in a fresh spirit of democracy and also provide the opportunity for us to create rich content around the online event.”

In practical terms, entries are invited from companies whose formats were first broadcast between June 2008 and October 2009. The submissions are then shortlisted by C21 and FRAPA, before being judged online by C21Media.net’s community of 35,000-plus international entertainment executives.

At press time, there were 67 formats in contention across six categories: best game show; best competition reality show; best observational documentary/factual entertainment reality show; best comedy; best scripted format; and best multi-screen format.

Saving the best for last, this year’s awards ceremony will also feature a true industry superstar, Peter Bazalgette, who has been nominated for the 2009 Gold Medal. Presented each year to an organisation or individual that has made an outstanding contribution to the worldwide format business, Gold Medal laureates include the prolific UK format creators, Stephen Leahy and Trish Kinane, and the mythical US talk-show producer Merv Griffin.

Bazalgette, whose credits include Big Brother, Deal Or No Deal, Ready Steady Cook, Changing Rooms and Ground Force, has been described in the UK press as “the most influential man in British television”.

“Peter has been an iconic figure in the formats business since he launched Bazal back in the 1980s,” Jenkinson says. “His signature style and approach has been recognised worldwide and we are very proud that he has agreed to accept this award.”