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What the world’s producers, platforms and channels are developing.

IDTV takes format creation into The Unknown

Marc Pos of All3Media-backed Dutch prodco IDTV discusses psychological social experiment series The Unknown and his philosophy for creating formats that both entertain and intellectually stimulate audiences.

Marc Pos in Cannes

Dutch prodco IDTV and London-based Objective Media Group (OMG) are asking viewers and buyers to confront an existential question with their new format, The Unknown.

The central premise of the psychological social experiment series, created by IDTV CEO Marc Pos, is whether regular people dare to choose an unknown path rather than the safe, familiar one.

Pos says the format gets to the root of a question that many have faced, especially in the wake of the pandemic: are they content with the lives they have, or do they dare to dream bigger?

“People are questioning themselves more than ever before and asking themselves whether they dare to choose the unknown in terms of work, relationships and dreams,” he says.

If the casting process was anything to go by, the question certainly resonated with potential applicants.

When casting began, the company broadcast a promotional video asking viewers if they “dare to choose the unknown.” The video contained almost no information about the show, but attracted a large number of submissions – enough that the firm had to cut the campaign short because it soon had too many applicants.

Casting then took place at a secret location, with potential participants being told only that they might be selected to take part and would know within two months. After that, there was no communication until the show began.

IDTV and OMG, both backed by All3Media, are developing US and UK versions of the elaborate format, details of which have been kept under wraps until now.

Pos describes it as follows. A contestant is doing the laundry or the gardening and suddenly a bodyguard appears and, without saying a word, hands them a letter that simply reads: “Do you dare to choose the unknown?”

The Traitors format has been adapted in 11 territories

If they say yes, they are blindfolded, taken to an airport, flown to another country and then dropped there. When the contestant takes off the blindfold, they are with five strangers and a briefcase filled with cash.

From there, two teams separately embark on a race to find the game master – an unpredictable figure who constantly challenges the teams to make a choice between the certainty of the known or the risk of the unknown. Sometimes choosing the unknown will help the teams advance, but sometimes it will set them back. The first team, or what’s left of it, to deliver the briefcase to the game master takes home a huge cash prize.

In early October, Pos and OMG were in the US pitching the format to potential buyers. The next stop was Mipcom in Cannes, where they introduced the show to international networks and platforms with a unique activation that asked buyers to enter a black box in the Palais to hear the pitch.

IDTV has been riding a wave of momentum this year following the success of its gameshow format with a twist, The Traitors. The show sees contestants joining forces to complete challenges and win prize money, but three contestants are traitors whose aim is to deceive the rest of the group through manipulation, seduction, blackmail and even ‘murder.’

The Unknown and The Traitors are similar in that one of their key elements is the distrust and paranoia between contestants.

Distributed by All3Media International, The Traitors format has already been commissioned in 11 territories, with the US and UK iterations, commissioned by NBCUniversal and the BBC respectively, due to launch soon.

Pos is all too aware of the global impact that Dutch-made formats can have. The exec, who has worked in the TV industry for 35 years, was in on the ground floor of the reality TV boom, serving as a director on the very first edition of Big Brother.

With The Traitors proving to be a hot property among international buyers, and with equally high expectations for The Unknown, Pos says he hopes IDTV can expand in the US and internationally on the back of popular original formats, like many other Dutch companies have done over the past two decades.

“It’s IDTV’s ambition to grow into this international market as other companies already did. It’s not new, but it’s new for us,” he says.

He adds that one of his underlying philosophies around format creation is to give viewers entertainment that can be enjoyed on multiple levels.

“The best entertainment, to me, has lots of layers. The top layer should be just entertainment – just sit on the couch and let us entertain you,” he says.

“If you want to see more, though, there are intelligent layers you can build in. So some people will think ‘it’s just fun for me’ and others say ‘wow, I want to dive further into this behaviour.’”