New FRAPA report “will give us the tools to work our global business”

On the basis that knowledge is power — and that hard facts drive hard business — the news that FRAPA is to publish a comprehensive report on the global formats industry is to be welcomed. And the timing is perfect, writes Joanna Stephens: in today’s competitive, credit-crunched marketplace, intelligence has never been more valuable.

FIVE years ago, FRAPA and Screen Digest instigated the first major analysis of the global trade in television formats — and proved that, far from being a lucrative sideline for producers and broadcasters, formats were a major industry in their own right, worth a jaw-dropping €2.4bn a year. But that was back in 2004, when the world was a very different place. Take technology, for example. “We are far, far closer to the digital world than we were five years ago,” points out Ute Biernat, chairman of FRAPA and CEO of Grundy Light Entertainment. “That means we are fighting on many more fronts for format rights. Shows are now travelling much faster and on many more platforms than they were five years ago.”

GRUNDY Light Entertainment’s Ute Biernat:
“FRAPA is like a kind of mini UN for the television industry”

Then there’s the shifting topography of the formats market. Back in 2004, the US was ‘format central’ in terms of production value, followed by Germany and France. The UK, meanwhile, was far and away the biggest exporter, generating 32% of all broadcast format hours. Company wise, Endemol reigned supreme, devising, distributing and producing more formats than any other entity in the world.
Today — as the 2008 C21Media/FRAPA Format Awards demonstrated with its eclectic mix of winners — great formats are territory-agnostic. Neither are they the sole preserve of the big format factories. They come from anywhere and everywhere, and increasingly from fringe TV territories and boutique producers. Biernat observes that, five years ago, Canada, South America and Asia were barely on the format industry’s radar. “Today, they are all sophisticated markets,” she adds. “Even Germany is now selling three times more formats than it was five years ago.”
As to what’s hot and what’s not, there have also been profound changes since FRAPA’s 2004 report. Back in those simpler days, game shows represented 50% of global format airtime, while reality was the single most important genre in terms of production value. The concept of the scripted format was still largely on the page — and nobody would have predicted that a Colombian telenovela called Betty La Fea would spawn a dozen local versions, including the major ABC drama series Ugly Betty.
“In view of all the changes that have taken place over the past five years — changes in technology, genre and geography — it became clear to us that the formats industry needed a new roadmap,” Biernat says, explaining FRAPA’s desire to commission a new international study. “We felt we needed to take a fresh look at what’s happening out there in the wider world and how these trends are shaping and driving our business.”
The new report — titled “FRAPA Report; TV Formats To The World” — is being compiled in association with the global TV research agency The WIT and TV Sisters, a journalistic office that provides international programme research to German producers and broadcasters. The full report will be published in October, to coincide with the MIPCOM content mart in Cannes. However, Biernat says that a “taster report”, focusing on five key territories, will be available by MIPTV in April, when FRAPA will officially announce the new study to the international industry.Virginia Mouseler, managing director The WIT, is confident that the report will give “an accurate, unbiased photograph of a fast-moving market”. She notes that most research into the global formats industry is either UK-driven or sponsored by individual companies, and therefore of limited value to the wider industry. The FRAPA report, by contrast, will be founded on independent research and a tried-and-trusted methodology based on The WIT and TV Sisters’ in-depth knowledge of the business, built up over a decade of close involvement.

The result, Mouseler promises, will be “a true global vision of the formats market, without prejudice and seen from all perspectives, from Japan to California; from Norway to Argentina. And it should enable us — at last — to answer some of our industry’s most hotly debated questions. Is the UK still the largest exporter of formats? Is the much-hyped scripted-format market really expanding? What are the top selling shows? Where will the next wave of creativity come from? And how big, in real terms, is the global format market?”

Sonja Behrens, one half of the TV Sisters partnership, admits to being “very curious as to which genres best meet the demands of today’s buyers”. Her partner, Elfi Jäger, adds: “As budgets tighten around the globe, the formats industry is facing new challenges. To meet them, everybody in the business needs to know which players are in the market and how their formats are performing.”

Distraction chief and FRAPA luminary Michel Rodrigue agrees. “This study is long overdue,” he says. “It’s the only true way to measure the impact of our industry. It will provide us with the tools we need to work our business — and it will demonstrate to broadcasters and end-users that formats deliver and are the way of the future.”

Michel Rodrigue: “the only true way to measure the impact of our industry”

Rodrigue also believes the report will throw up some surprises, over and above the fact that the formats industry has “increased dramatically and exponentially” over the past five years. He is, he says, expecting it to reveal a more polarised market, split between high-traction, high-earning formats that cost a lot to produce, but earn a lot for their mainly large and powerful producers; and the smaller, cheaper workhorses that plod through the world’s schedules, doing a solid if less glamorous job for their creators and broadcasters.

“The landscape will have changed a great deal since 2004,” Rodrigue predicts. “That’s why I believe it’s vital for us to produce this study, especially in view of the economic crisis. Now is the time to work together and not be overly competitive.”

Collaboration is also high on Biernat’s agenda. In a market dogged by dwindling budgets and plummeting ad spend, “we will achieve more being co-operative rather than combative”, she maintains. “FRAPA is like a kind of mini UN for the television industry. We believe that partnership is the password to the market — and I believe this study will underline that. I hope it will show how much we can do for each other by working together and sharing our knowledge, information and ideas.”