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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

David 1 Goliath 0

By Jan Salling 13-10-2017

The television landscape is a strange place at the moment.

We all know that things are changing rapidly, with new business models springing up and platforms launching daily with different types of fresh content. But at the other end of the spectrum we are also living through an extraordinary period of the reboot – everything from entertainment formats such as Blind Date, Family Feud and Catchphrase, to kids’ shows like Danger Mouse and big dramas such as Poldark, Twin Peaks, Dynasty and The X-Files.

For the most part, these reboots are strong brands, coming from the original rights owners’ enormous catalogues and are being remade by their own production outfits. Big companies are keeping it in the family to continuously mine their rich seam of 100%-owned IP.

This is a very sensible business strategy for them; there are no real development costs and all the revenues stay within one group. And on top of that, these established ideas and brands seemingly minimise risk for broadcasters. With healthy back catalogues plus new ideas being generated internally, it’s no surprise, then, that the giant producer-distributors are limiting their interactions with independents. Why would they want to acquire third-party content and give money away when they can easily feed their own beast and retain full control?

The Fashion Hero is fronted by Brooke Hogan (centre)

I work in the formats world and this is something we’ve been battling for some time now. Sony has recently scaled down its third-party format business as it, along with other big format owners and distributors such as FremantleMedia and Endemol Shine, just don’t really need anyone else’s ideas. If you then factor in that traditional broadcasters, being somewhat risk-averse, are unlikely to take a new idea unless it has the backing of a trusted format partner, it actually makes me wonder if we’ll ever see another truly original big format idea again – one that becomes a global, one-size-fits-all, smash hit to rival Got Talent or Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.

However, it’s far from doom and gloom in the wider formats world. The big global deal door may have virtually closed but lots of others are opening. If you are a distributor hungry for success and think creatively about all possible revenue points for a project then you might just find lots of small pots of gold out there, rather than one big one.

Earlier this year I started working with Beauty World Search and its format, The Fashion Hero. Caroline Bernier, the show’s creator, had very specific ideas of what she wanted this programme to be, along with a very ambitious plan for social media involvement.

So, to bring her vision to life and retain 100% of the IP, she self-funded an eight-part English-language series featuring people from 22 countries. This was a risky strategy but she knew what she was doing. It was never just about a programme, it was about starting a movement to disrupt the established fashion industry norms and, significantly, it was about engagement.

The Fashion Hero was never going to work with a major global distributor but with a little disruptive thinking of our own, we have succeeded in establishing an independent global distribution network comprising 14 small distributors. It has taken some time to set up numerous different deals, as opposed to one, but we now have a fired up, motivated and highly skilled network of people who took the show on as they believe in it and are confident that it will make them – and their local clients – a lot of money.

These smaller agents and distributors know their stuff. All have worked for one or more major distributors for many years and have just decided to strike out on their own. And with a concept like The Fashion Hero, they are given lots of flexibility and an opportunity to be creative.

In Hungary, for example, there is an interesting deal in place with RTL Klub. A no-risk, win-win revenue-share model has been agreed and RTL Klub will air the finished Canadian series in a good time slot. A good slot means more viewers, and more eyeballs means an increase in traffic to the Fashion Hero website. In turn, this means more people potentially signing up to become both a participant in the movement and a participant in the next local or international Fashion Hero series.

It’s at this point that involvement has a small fee attached for those who are interested. The broadcaster gets a percentage of this fee, as does the distributor – and from the latter’s point of view, this will be much more than they would earn from commission on a straight local licence deal.

Down the line, RTL Klub can decide if it wants to use its revenues to reinvest in a Hungarian version of the show. If not, it can bank the money and the distributor can re-sell the format locally, along with a valuable database of ‘engaged’ Hungarians. In short, it carries no risk and no financial obligation for the broadcaster – only a win situation.

With this business model we can acknowledge hard times and budget cuts and offer broadcasters all over the world different solutions for raising revenue. Globally, this project has seven million unique users of its website and more than one million likes on Facebook. All this and it hasn’t even launched anywhere in the world yet. The show premiered in the US, UK and Germany on Amazon Prime Video on October 6.

We work in interesting times and I think that smaller agents and distributors, with real local knowledge and networks, and who are personally motivated to place ideas in order to pay their bills, are going to be the people that ultimately transform how the formats distribution business works in the future.

My early experience consulting with a few format owners and placing their projects in this way proves this route works and I am delighted that these small businesses are starting to steal from the lunch of the major players. I believe that this will stimulate and benefit the industry as a whole.

Independent producers and distributors with exciting new ideas should stop endlessly knocking at the doors of the majors for that exclusive global deal. It’s very unlikely to happen. The market has polarised, so it’s time for them to re-calibrate their thinking and explore the opportunities afforded by new routes.

A successful format does not have to be all about the number of territories either. Why can’t a format be deemed a success with only two or three versions to its name? If I’m right, we might never again see a new idea that works in 50-plus markets. However, one clever idea, pitched in an innovative fashion and with online revenue generation attached, for example, could make much more money than a multi-territory deal with a conventional model.

The world and the industry are changing. We have to change with them.

today's correspondent

Jan Salling Head of BBC Studios Nordics Productions BBC Studios

Jan is CEO at Missing Link Media and head of global sales for The Fashion Hero, the TV version of a global fashion movement led by Canada’s Beauty World Search.

Prior to setting up Missing Link in Copenhagen in 2015, Jan was chief operating officer and MD of sales and acquisitions at distributor Nordic World and head of sales at Banijay International. He also had a stint as head of sales at Nordisk Film TV World. He remains co-chairman of formats rights protection association FRAPA.