Mr. Berkowitz, International TV Formats Conference will be held for the second time this September in Tel Aviv. How was the idea for this major event born?
Israel is a thriving market for television and we weren’t sure that everyone internationally were aware of that, so the purpose of the conference is to promote the creators of Israel, Israeli television in general, the specific producers and the wonderful products that come out of Israel. We know that the United States is a thriving marketplace for this product, but we weren’t sure the rest of the world knew. So that’s the purpose of the conference.
The Conference was the government’s idea and they asked me to lead the conference in terms of giving it prestige and in terms of my knowledge base of television. And I did it because I really believe in Israeli television market. Not only is it lucrative, but some great product comes out of it.
The main objective is to introduce the international community to the Israeli creators, writers, directors, production companies and their product. And it’s a conference, where everyone can gather and have meetings and actually meet the different companies, as well as the guests.
What were the results of the first edition last year?
I believe that during the first edition last year many delegates became aware of the television business and they formed their own contacts with the Israeli producers and the production companies and the creators. I had no input in that follow-up, because my own relationship was only to American television.
What are your expectations for this year’s event? How many delegates are expected to come to Tel Aviv?
Last year there were 80 delegates coming from around the world, and I believe this year there are over 100 delegates coming from over 20 different countries. The conference was successful and it’s continuing to grow. The biggest numbers are from Germany, Hungary, China and the United States.
Also last year was just the first year and it might have been less structured, and this year it will be more structured. For instance, last year I was the only guest speaker, this year John Landgraf is coming, who is the chairman of FX Networks; Mike Lombardo is coming, he is the former president of HBO. Michael Rotenberg is coming, he is a very big comedy producer, and Doug Herzog is coming, who is former president of Viacom. So we have a lot of strong American presence with a different point of American view, which we can share with all the other countries. Also Ben Silverman is coming, who is a very important producer and formerly ran NBC. I think that the stature of the conference has increased greatly in just one year.
What are the highlights in this year’s agenda? Will you bring back your format contest this year?
They will bring back the format contest, yes. I think that the highlight is to have more exposure for more and more delegates and countries to understand how the Israeli television market is thriving and can work in their country as well in terms of local production of these shows.
Israeli television formats have reached new heights in recent years, screened on TV networks worldwide. To what do you attribute the boom of Israeli content internationally?
I believe that the characters that are on Israeli television translate throughout most of the world, or at least, the Western world. The shows are also done on a budget, because they don’t have a lot of money to produce them, so they’re very character based, as opposed to action-based. So they easily translate to many different societies that have a similar society structure. Because Israel is a very Westernized country, a lot of the issues that are dealt with in the shows appeal directly to the people in the United States and I believe they will also deal directly to people in other countries. Because television is successful because of the characters. Every week or every day you’re going back and watching the same people and you have to have a relationship with them and feel that you can relate to them and the way the characters are portrayed in Israeli television translates internationally extremely well.
Can you draw some parallels between the Israeli and US TV market?
The only parallel that I can draw is that the creators in the Israeli market, what they create seems to have a great reception in the United States, as I said because of the relatability of the characters and the situations and the story lines.
You are also the Co-Head of the television department at CAA. You’ve been working with many of the world’s leading television producers, writers, and directors. How has the TV business changed in the past several years and what is the future of TV?
The business has changed rapidly and when I started a long time ago, there were only three television networks, and right now there are over 400 scripted shows. The outlets for television used to just be limited to broadcast, and now it’s basic cable and it’s premium cable, and it’s streaming companies like Amazon and Netflix and Hulu, so there’s a very very very great demand for content, and it’s hard enough to keep up with the demand and find great content creators, so television is more in demand than ever before.