FRAPA is lending active support to China’s first-ever event dedicated to formats: the International Formats Forum (IFF China), which takes place in Beijing on November 12-13, 2010. The event will be attended by high-ranking delegates drawn from across China’s 32 regional TV stations, as well as national broadcaster CCTV and broadcasting watchdog SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television).

The brainchild of long-time FRAPA supporter Georges Leclere, whose many TV hats include serving as Banff World TV Festival’s competitions and awards director, IFF China is part festival, part creative contest, part forum and part master-class in best practice. “Our aim is to teach by example, introduce ‘the best of the West’ to the Chinese TV industry, enhance the skills of local format creators and devisors, and assist the Chinese in their ambition to become a leading player in the international formats industry,” Leclere said. Assisting him in this mission are two FRAPA steering committee members: David Lyle, president of Fox LOOK, whose unscripted-programming expertise spans 25 years and more than 20 countries; and consultant Michel Rodrigue, co-founder with ‘format doctor’ Justin Scroggie of The Format People, which has recently been granted a one-year mandate by Liaoning TV (LTV) to import western formats into China, while developing the provincial broadcaster’s in-house format expertise.

Lyle, who is to receive the first IFFY Outstanding Achievement Award in Worldwide Formats in recognition of his contribution to his industry’s volcanic development, will be delivering a keynote address in Beijing, sharing star billing with American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe.

Lyle said his session would focus on “the progression of the formats industry through the reality decade”, using examples to illustrate how various genres — from studio-based game shows to ob docs — have been polished and refined to attract global audiences. “I’ll also touch on the format-creation aspect, looking at how some of the latest hits have been devised and how they could be adapted to work in new markets and on new platforms,” he added.

Expanding on the ‘show and tell’ theme, Lyle also believes that Fox LOOK’s portfolio of international properties can serve as an example to China’s up-and-coming format creatives, helping them to “aspire to the highest standards in the years to come”.

Rodrigue — who has been “invaluable in bringing credibility, contacts and great ideas to the table”, Leclere said — described IFF China as “a fantastic opportunity for the international formats industry to break into a market of 1.3 billion potential consumers of formats”. Via the deal with LTV, The Format People are already making inroads into that vast hinterland, having identified at MIPCOM a selection of “shiny primetime formats” from Italy, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands that they believe will play well with Chinese viewers. “China is the most exciting thing to have happened to the format industry for years,” he added.

Rodrigue is also convinced that FRAPA has a role to play in helping to educate China’s broadcasters and producers in the “rules of the international game”. He cited a key challenge as ‘copycatting’, whereby one regional broadcaster legitimately acquires a hit format, only to see his rivals knock out a succession of virtually identical shows — a phenomenon that beset the European market in what Lyle dubs “the Wild West days” of formateering in the early Noughties.

Rodrigue added: “I hope that FRAPA will be able to recruit some Chinese members at IFF. In time, when the market matures, it would be great if we could establish a Chinese arm to FRAPA.”

While Leclere admits that the inaugural IFF China is “somewhat experimental” in terms of its structure, he has no doubt that there is a both a future and a need for such an event in the territory tipped to be the TV superpower of tomorrow. “The Chinese government is pushing to have formats recognised as a real genre,” he said. “The authorities are doing their best to curtail piracy and create a legitimate market in formats, on the basis that China has a huge need for quality local content to fuel its broadcast pipeline. Formats are a brilliant way of generating large quantities of ratings-winning programming that can be twisted and shaped to look totally Chinese.”

Scroggie added: “China is an incredibly West-facing market at the moment. It’s all there to be done.”