Pascal, was 2018 a strong year for ITV’s format business? What were the results compared to previous years and which formats drove the growth?
Last year saw the strongest format results we’ve had on record with double-digit growth in both our studios and distribution businesses. Love Island, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Hell’s Kitchen were among the significant drivers which enabled us to lay strong foundations going into 2019.
Another noteworthy contribution is Come Dine with Me, which continues to be a key foundation for our international format business. It’s especially impressive given that, not only has the show been produced across 43 territories, but it also continues to travel to brand new countries, all the way from Mexico to Mongolia. First broadcast in January 2005 in the UK, Come Dine with Me will be 15 years old next year and the goal is to reach 15.000 episodes globally. It’s at around 14.000 at the moment, so only a thousand to go…!
What’s exciting is the new phase, as we take our format business to the next step of its evolutionary cycle. Returning hits like Hell’s Kitchen, Love Island and Come Dine with Me are still fundamental, but we’ve been planting seeds and future planning for the next five years of growth. Our slate for 2019 is one of the best I’ve seen.
What are your expectations for 2019 and what is your strategy for this year?
We have big ambitions. We entered the year with more entertainment shows in new territories than ever before so it is already lining up to be a thrilling year. In terms of new shows we are bringing to MIPTV, we are buzzing with excitement about Catchpoint and The Chamber, both of which launched strongly in the UK, as well as Operation Live, which has already been commissioned in two countries and has been recommissioned for a second series in the UK.
We are seeing a big global trend for nostalgia and returning formats. As a result, we will continue our focus on returning hits such as I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, which is still a massive hit in the UK, Australia and Germany - and returns this year in France - as well as Hell’s Kitchen, which has seen 60 seasons produced globally across 22 territories. Today, new shows can take longer to travel than previously, and commissioners are prepared to go further afield for original concepts. It was the third series of Love Island in the UK before viewers really started to pay attention and then very quickly we accelerate into a position where the show has been commissioned in 12 markets, with more to come. For a global player, effective marketing plays a big part in that. You have to cut through the noise to reveal the genuine hits - which is what people want ultimately.
Could you give more details on the formats ITV Studios Global Entertainment is launching at MIPTV?
Catchpoint is a gameshow in which you don’t always have to be correct to win – you just have to be close enough to the dropping balls to catch them! It’s full of unique, visual questions, nail-biting tension and hilarious fun. Ten giant LED screens hang vertically in the studio, upon which are displayed pictorial answers to a series of questions. Players then stand in front of the image which they hope is the correct answer. If they are right, all they need do is catch a giant ball which falls from above them, with each ball caught adding money to the bank. Easy right? However, any players stood in front of the wrong answer still have the opportunity to dash, dive or leap to catch it from wherever it falls. When it comes to balls dropping on gameshows, there is no better fun to be had on TV than Catchpoint. It is a Possessed and 12 Yard co-production which recently launched on BBC One in the UK.
The Chamber is the world’s first underground gameshow, set in a Welsh mine, which sees two teams take on four different levels designed to test fitness, brainpower and bravery. The aim of the game is to be the first team to reach the bottom of the chamber and escape, in a race against time to crack the code before the power – and the chamber itself – shut down! With a fully-functioning international hub in Wales, The Chamber delivers a ready-made opportunity for cost-effective, family entertainment. The format is a Boom production for S4C.
And then there is Operation Live. For the first time ever, the life-changing work of doctors and surgeons is captured for live broadcast. From open heart surgery to a replacement knee operation, the show follows the surgical team through every astonishing moment, while the host observes from a distance, accompanied by a medical expert who can take the audience through each painstaking incision and difficult decision step-by-step.
Love Island remains one of your hottest properties. Is there a specific format genre that has been on the rise lately, based on your format sales?
There isn’t really one standout genre but I would say that we’ve noticed that authenticity is very much key to the needs of viewers and a live, or almost live element integrated into the content. We have multiple formats genres that are rising across different regions and we have our portfolio of formats to thank for that. It’s not a surprise that reality, physical gameshow and factual entertainment are key drivers, but there is also a demand for adapting scripted formats as broadcasters desire more local content. But with a back catalog that keeps delivering new sales combined with breakout hits, we continue to deliver.
The heat doesn’t just come from Love Island. Hell’s Kitchen continues to travel to new markets, having launched in four new countries in 2018, as well as continuing to perform strongly in existing markets, as evidenced by Fox in the U.S. committing to seasons 19 and 20. I think part of its appeal is that it’s one of the fastest travelling cooking shows, and the best alternative to other similar formats having demonstrated that it can beat them!
I would also say to keep a very close eye on Catchpoint. It came out strong at our dedicated, yearly Formats Festival and we’re proud that it has been selected at Pitch&Play FORMATCASE ahead of MIPTV too.
What are the key markets for ITV Studios and do you have territories that you would like to focus more on in 2019?
EMEA continues to be very important when it comes to the suitability of our catalog and our ambitions, while we continue to explore the potential in APAC and LATAM still. In LATAM, we were very excited to kick off the new year with the announcement of a format tie-up with Turner, which has already borne fruit, with Come Dine with Me commissioned on Telefe in Argentina and The Alphabet Game launched on Canal 10 in Uruguay. We’ll be continuing to work closely with Turner but we also remain open for business with our other clients in the region, for the hundreds of other titles in our formats catalog.
Love Island, Series 4 winners
Are there specific genres that you target to different types of markets?
From a sales point of view, I’d go one step further to say that we focus by title, by channel and by country – not only by genre and region. In today’s environment, when there is so much choice out there, you really have to pinpoint the key opportunities. Of course, you can generalize and say, for example, “we know that shiny floor and studio-based shows which can be stripped and which make economic sense for the client will work anywhere” - but we try to have a more comprehensive and thorough approach. We ask questions, we listen to the needs of each individual client and we respond to those briefs accordingly. When it comes to marketing our formats, we are looking at focusing our approaches, which titles we promote and where. The superb job our format marketing teams have done around globally promoting Love Island, has certainly opened up conversations elsewhere in the catalog.
What are the key differences in buyers’ preferences in terms of region?
You may be surprised to hear that there are actually more similarities than differences. Primetime shiny floor is in demand everywhere it seems, and physical gameshows without an over-emphasis on knowledge-based questions keep coming up in conversations. But more often than not, Track record continues to be the single most fundamental buying criteria. That’s why in today’s market the renewal business is so crucial, so then it becomes about being the best long-term partner we can be, to support and keep shows current and on air. The advantage we have, is that we are a global company so we can pass and share that knowledge to empower the content and keep being renewed. I’ve always said a good idea can come from anywhere, and now you are seeing buyers look further than ever for original concepts.
What is the importance of having a local production arm on the ground in various markets? Does that make it easier to sell formats there?
It’s been well documented that ITV has had significant success in building ITV Studios into a truly global company. We are fortunate to be able to launch new labels in new markets – territories that have traditionally bought, but also created formats, which has in turn helped us to develop and broaden our pipeline. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily easier to sell formats that way, but there are definite upsides to aligning with the right partners in the right market. It’s natural for any IP owner to have production ambitions, for commercial reasons as well as practical. But the importance of having a local production presence is a case by case consideration, and there are several options to evaluate carefully. Each of these has different levels of risk and opportunity. We gauge which option to pursue based on certain, pre-selected criteria and our own business needs. If the conditions are right, this can certainly help localize, adapt and create IP, which is where the main strength lies.
What are some of the criteria you have when doing deals with markets where ITV Studios is not present?
If we are weighing up our options, there are several factors that come into play, apart from the macroeconomic conditions of each territory. Sometimes it may be more appropriate remaining independent and handling format sales centrally. It could be a very opportunistic approach and we just respond to a particular need in a market. You have to evaluate the suitability of our content with the opportunities that lie with platforms and broadcasters, and the right fit with any potential production partner. Historical format sales and our previous experience working with local partners also has an impact.
With Lecter Media in Belgium that was more of a dedicated and strategic sales approach where we were looking to collaborate with a production partner. They are now co-producing Love Island with ITV Netherlands this year, which we can’t wait to see, having produced series two of The Job Interview for SBS’s VIER in 2018.
With the Turner rep deal in Latin America; we’d been on a good journey with them, and they had delivered excellent localized versions of The Alphabet Game (Pasapalabra) and Come Dine with Me, in several South American markets. It made sense to springboard and formalize our collaboration on a bigger scale. The end goal is to establish more commissions in neighboring markets. Their local expertise in adaptation plays a big part, while we bring our global presence and outstanding IP to the conversation.
The streaming giants are investing more and more in non-scripted productions. Have you been in talks for the ITV Studios formats and which?
We engage with all streaming players as they continue to present opportunities.
With linear TV declining and VOD rising, how does that affect the format sales business?
Linear TV still has spending power though, so for us it just means we are engaging with all parties. What we should be looking at is ways we can support the growth of VOD, whilst still offering content for linear audiences. Or conversely, a purely non-scripted proposition that works exclusively for VOD or Linear.
Arton (Eighteen) was produced by ITV Studios Sweden for Discovery’s Dplay last year, which was a VOD commission. It’s a coming of age format, when we follow a group of young adults in their final months of school as they leave childhood behind and prepare to face the real world.
Love Island is one format that grew ITV2’s linear and VOD audience. I’m not talking marginally either. The ITV2 linear audience grew from around 500.000 individuals for its first series in 2015, to just over 4 million last year, making it the most watched show ever on ITV2, while ITV Hub+ had a 60% increase of subscriptions. We’ve had successes off screen as well, monetizing merchandise opportunities with sales of Love Island Water bottles, examples of which you may have seen at MIPCOM last year. These successes are being mirrored in other versions too, which plays into our “More Than TV” group strategy.
This all proves that you can offer addictive, unpredictable and authentic content that has grown audiences across linear, SVOD and secondary rights. That is rare in today’s format climate and demonstrates that we can, as distributors and creators, find solutions to the challenges we face as an industry.