By Lisette Van Diepen 06-07-2020
The formats veteran discusses where new ideas will come from amid a surge in classic reboots, and how the industry will emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.
I’m reporting from the Netherlands, which, as you will know, is a small but deeply creative and hugely successful generator of formatted ideas that sell all over the world. And it’s not just the big guns that are based here – we are proud to say there are lots of medium- and smaller-sized creative companies that come up with great IP and productions. As a freelance consultant, I am lucky enough to work with a diverse group of people from a diverse size of companies.
On the formats front line in this country, I’ve observed the recent reliance on classic formats such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Dragons’ Den, which are returning comfortably to our screens season after season. And yes, particularly now. That’s good news if you happen to have a super-brand in your cupboard, but what about the next generation of fresh, exciting ideas? What’s new and where’s it coming from?
For my part, as a format consultant, I’m using my network and mining every catalogue I can find for unearthed gems; those positive, uplifting primetime formats that bring uncomplicated pleasure to audiences (and broadcasters) living in a complicated world.
As our industry squares up to the pandemic, channels are demanding pitches for shows that can spring into production in September, or formats with a reassuring track record of success. Both of those requirements are, of course, tall orders.
There’s also clear evidence from the Frapa membership that many of you are busy developing your own formats. Our Format Registration System has seen a surge in traffic, as members are refining and refreshing existing concepts. This burst of creative energy is one of the few upsides of these strange days, which have made us all pause, whether we like it or not. But I’ve also noticed another unexpected upside – a new collaborative spirit that is bringing together former rivals in new and surprising ways.
Classic formats like Dragons’ Den remain popular around the world
Among the recent partnerships that have been formed by the least likely of collaborators are a Benelux distributor now working to exploit a paper format that was created by competing international creators from two different countries. I have also been briefed about two extremely competitive Dutch indies pooling their diminished resources to team up and exploit their IP package-style internationally.
Apart from Talpa Network’s Fastest Way to Screen project, there are new private format funds set up for young creative companies – any way us Dutchies can get the world to know about our IP, and protect it by announcing it, registering it and launching it… Staying positive and flexible is key these days.
These are just a couple of examples that illustrate what I believe is a gathering trend, and one I hope will stay with us long after the coronavirus has been vanquished (or vanquishes itself).
It seems our industry has suddenly woken up to the potential of co-operation and connection. Not that I wish to compare saving lives in a pandemic to saving the life of a business, but the Covid-19 crisis has shown in the starkest possible terms that global collaboration is the only way for us to remain safe. For businesses, it’s our best chance of remaining solvent.
Bringing the focus back to the formats industry, questioning our procedures and methods is not only a sound commercial instinct, but it can also lead to inspiration. Much has been made of the ‘new normal’ – a phrase that has already become so hackneyed as to be meaningless. In reality, it’s up to us to decide to do things differently: partner with our competitors, pool our resources, give vulnerable freelancers a chance. I think we’ll be surprised by the quantity and quality of the ideas that will be generated.
It’s smart to be flexible and open-minded. But right now, it’s more than smart – it’s survival.