Formats: Make Them Successful

Nowadays the TV World is enough structured. Everyone got used to what is shown on TV. In lots of countries formats are kept repeated, adapted or simply modified to be presented as allegedly new formats. It seems that everything that could be shown has already been shown.

At the same time we observe the process when every day we can see the implementation of something new to TV broadcasts. The process of creating new international formats is too difficult. We tried to analyze and talked to the world’s leading experts about formats and reasons that make them successful.


What can make format successful in a particular country?

Anna Verbovska, MK Media Group LLC, CIS, Baltic, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking territories: Creating international format is not an easy task and it is not given to every company. Sometimes channels acquire license for original version, another time they change it for their own market. What factor influences the broadcaster’s choice of purchasing format, their decision about the necessity of local adaptation?

There are two terms that determine whether the format will become successful outside of the “native culture”:

Lacuna and Universal model. Lacuna is the phenomenon of congeniality between the cultures and production cultures of different countries: first one of the format origin and the second one that adapts it. Universal model is a feature by which the format is selected regardless of the differences in cultures.

While lacunas take into account the reasons for local adaptation which lie in the nature of the content, Universals also consider the logic of the market and industry. Here there are three crucial lacunas that determine whether the producer will take the format for adaptation and what they will have to change:

1) Content Lacuna: when audience finds the program meaningless or such that does not fall within the scope of their culture. For example, when too private topics are affected or brought up in public twhich is not common in such a country. It can also refer to behavior and status of cast, the jury, the stars etc. They will need to be replaced with “local”.

2) Capital Lacunae: the format requires from audience certain knowledge so an adaptation has to include the base of local facts (it refers to quiz shows that require knowledge of surrounding places, people, events etc.). In addition, it is important to approach responsibly the translation of the format name and not just to create its “tracing”.

3) Production Lacunae: the style of format and its elements. It is a color scheme of show, the light in the studio and its style, kind of songs in musical shows, the way of storytelling in program (more complex or, vice versa, simpler) and so on. Every country has its own fashion and its own view of style.

Universal is characterized by one or all three components:

1) Content Universal. It is the axis of format, the idea that touches deeply where dreams come true, there is competition, love story, there is escape from reality to fantasy world etc. It means the theme of the show is common for all cultures.

2) Audience-Created Universals: the format is easy to understand and it involves the viewer. While cross-media is becoming more and more powerful, producers are looking for content where viewers can participate and make their own contribution.

3) Company-Created Universals: the logic of market and relations between companies. Taking into account economic, political, legislative base will give the opportunity to correct format appropriately.
Considerable attention should be paid to close relations between licensor and licensee instead of formal transfer of production bible.

Luis Felipe Infante, independent producer and format dealer, Chile: There are too many things which can turn format into a success, some cultural and most conjunctional. Why does Big Brother format have 10 sessions in one country and only one failure in another? Is it because of the format or specific moment when it was broadcasted?
In my particular experience timing is crucial but not the only reason to bring and produce a hit format. For example, the most successful international format in Chile was Contest Shows such as Master Chef, Money Drop and Your Face Sound Familiar while “reality shows” or “scripted format” do not have as good results as producers expected.


In my opinion, in order to succeed format has to approach the content in a new and unique way triggering the emotional level of the audience. It should capture audience not only in an intellectual but in subconscious way and after that it has to be well adapted to each new country where it has been bought. It´s very important for the format – owning company to supervise the show quality standards but it´s also important to let local producers introduce particular things of the place otherwise audience will never get attached to the format.

Anne Kirsipuu, CIS & Baltic States, Fremantle Media Group Ltd: A successful format reflects important values in people`s life, is close to the cultural background and therefore able to cause strong emotions, trigger our basic instincts.

Denis Tuznu, Global Agency, Turkey: The main factor of a format is that it needs to be very simple, when viewers are watching they should understand the structure right away. If the format has a complex structure, the viewer gets distracted and this will fail the title. I also believe that the excitement level is very important, viewers should feel connected while watching. Besides casting, studio design, host and production quality are the main facts as well.

What formats (by genre) are the most successful for CIS, Baltic, and MENA states? What are the reasons?

Anne Kirsipuu, CIS & Baltic States, Fremantle Media Group Ltd: The most popular formats are still singing and game-shows (game-shows even taking 32% of all travelling formats in 2014 – to compare in 2012 only 20%). New singing shows like Voice Kids and Your Face Sounds Familiar have been travelling well along with already popular singing formats on air (X-Factor, Rising Star etc). Talent shows are on second place with 19% and talent-reality shows are on third place with 14%.

Marina Williams, CEE region, Endemol: In MENA, Star Academy (talent-show) has seen incredible achievements both online and on TV, with season 10 recently wrapping up on CBC (145 million YouTube views per month over the broadcast period). MBC produces Shiny Floor Entertainment Shows (talent show) that work extremely well too. In CIS and the Baltics, most recently Your Face Sounds Familiar has seen successful seasons in Georgia and Ukraine. Incredibly, in Georgia the show has aired on Imedi and GDS demonstrating the lengths broadcasters are prepared to go to keep the show hot and running. Deal or No Deal (game show) has just finished its 7th season on TV3 in Estonia and all Baltic MTG (TV3) channels produced The Money Drop successfully. Clash of the Choirs (talent show) in Lithuania is a total hit and has been working for over five seasons now. The local producer found a clue as to how to make this show appeal to the hearts of local viewers. In one of the seasons they assembled a choir of homeless people who were trained and won the final. That moved viewers to tears.

The key to these successes is a mix between the correct ingredients and how you ultimately present the executed format. These local broadcasters have had the vision to see the potential and longevity of the show. In their turn, local producers have been able to grasp and understand not only the basic elements of the format, but also the nuances, tips and tricks in order to make it works, that enables them to execute it in a way that stays true to the mandatory elements, while adapting it successfully to local markets.


Avi Armoza, Armoza Formats: With regards to genres, prime time studio entertainment is still a sure winner across the world. However, most of the current successful prime time formats are now going on to 10 years of success, which has created a gap in the market as everyone is looking for a fresh take on prime time. We have brought a strong solution to this need with I Can Do That! (talent show), which is set to air on leading US broadcaster NBC this summer with an all-star cast, while Italy is now airing its 2nd season and Mexico, Spain and Finland among the other 15 countries are in production for their local adaptations. The show combines impressive live performances with celebrity dynamics and pure entertainment viewing. And with different live acts each week and a role reversal twist of amateur performers training the celebrities, this show is the unique answer to the need for the next prime time entertainment show.

Game shows are always popular too, especially those that have long-running potential. In addition to prime time formats and game shows, buyers are all looking for factual formats that tell personal and human stories that touch the hearts of people. The Package is the Greek Alpha TV number 1 show for 11 seasons, which tells the stories of everyday people, connecting the country through their shared moments.

What are your best selling formats?

Anne Kirsipuu, CIS & Baltic States, Fremantle Media Group Ltd: FremantleMedia most sold format is Family Feud (sold in 61 countries total), in 2014 Family Feud was sold in four new countries, making successful come-back in many others. Got Talent is sold in 58 countries, Idols in 49 and X-Factor in 45 countries. Those are the most successful shows for us. Farmer Wants a Wife (sold in 30 countries) still makes fantastic audience numbers. From new shows My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours has been sold in most CEE territories, first adaptation of Who Lives Here? outperformed channel prime-time average by 21% on SVT1 Sweden as of few recent examples after MIP TV.

format.familyFeudMarina Williams, CEE region, Endemol: On a global level Deal or No Deal has been sold to 74 territories, Master Chef to 55 markets, Minute to Win has travelled to 55 counties, The Money Drop to 54, Big Brother has now been sold to 48 territories, Your Face Sounds Familiar to 37. The new amazing formats which are now making a statement are Bulls Eye from the USA and Island from the UK. These are amazing big budget productions. There are also game shows like endless UK Pointless which works across the world and there was even a book published dedicated to it (over a thousand episodes now in the UK alone).

Denis Tuznu, Global Agency, Turkey: Our strong formats are Shopping Monsters, Rivals in Law, Blind Taste for daytime access and for prime time, Keep Your Light Shining is our best selling title. I believe The Remix will soon take the world by storm.

Avi Armoza, Armoza Formats: I Can Do That! is a prime time highlight of our catalogue and is now in production in 15 countries, including the US. It was recently aired in Bulgaria and raised the channel average by 25%.

Connected (reality show) is another of our formats that has received a lot of positive attention recently and has now reached more than 10 territories. Over the last few months, we’ve seen several new launches, including the 1st season in the US on AOL and in Ireland on RTE2, while Finland aired their 3rd season on MTV3. In addition, in Israel where the show has become a huge phenomenon, with each season performing better than the previous one, the 7th season is now in production. Connected has created so much buzz because it is based on the very simple and authentic idea that we are all curious about other people’s lives. And given the culture of self-exposure that stems from social media, we are more comfortable now than ever before with sharing many elements of our private lives. Connected takes this premise and uses a revolutionary language to adapt it for the world of television, making the reality genre real again and providing a big contrast to the familiar scripted reality.

What countries are the best buyers? What genres?

Anna Verbovska, MK Media Group LLC, CIS, Baltic, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking territories: For several years, in Ukraine and in CIS countries these formats are well accustomed Game shows: Evening Quarter, Make the Comedian Laugh, Evening Urgant. A good humor and favorite presenters make great success. Reality shows Master Chef, The Biggest Loser are also popular. Highlight of the show is that characters can say on camera their opinion of each participant.

Social formats, made to reveal more information to consumers, are Inspector Freimuth and Money. The idea is that viewers can see many things: service industry, fraud, corruption, etc. It will always be important for the viewer.

Recently MK Media Group has signed an exclusive agreement to represent Insiders Project. The main idea of it is penetration into hard-to-rich on the ground, under the ground or over the ground. Now we negotiate with top influential networks in England & the USA and plan to create Insider’s Bible of the next seasons after the first one. You haven’t seen anything similar for sure! For MK Media Group the main goal in the format area is to create and sell only unusual, rare formats in order to be memorizable and to be in top.

Denis Tuznu, Global Agency, Turkey: Russia and Ukraine are the top buyers in CIS, with high demand for Talent and Reality.

format.bigBrotherMarina Williams, CEE region, Endemol: All of our clients are considered equal, but we have noticed that in particular, reality shows work extremely well across Balkan region (Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine). It is interesting that Your Face Sounds Familiar is equally successful across all these regions. It makes us believe that Big Brother could also work in Ukraine if it was produced up to the right standard and promoted by one of the major channels. Big Brother is a huge success in Balkans so perhaps there is something to consider for the Ukrainians. Big Brother evolved so much in the last several years, it is not Dom 2 (Russian reality format which is often mistakenly considered to be Big Brother). Big Brother has incredible game play, amazing emotional elements, it even has more of family skewed versions like in Israel and Australia vs Edgy reality. Besides cross promotion of Big Brother with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube creates amazing following and unbeatable success.

Avi Armoza, Armoza Formats: Hungary and Turkey are strong format territories for us. The 5th season of Still Standing has recently finished airing on M1 Hungary with strong ratings. Our partnerships have also included MTVA with studio game show We Believe in You and VIASAT3 on the recent collaboration of daily stripped styling format Runway in my Closet.

Anne Kirsipuu, CIS & Baltic States, Fremantle Media Group Ltd: According to 2014 year results the biggest buyers were Germany (28 formats) and the USA (25 formats), France and the UK both bought 20 formats. Russia and Ukraine both bought 19 formats, together with China and the Netherlands.

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