For true global success a show needs time
BY Yako Molhov
Ella Umansky, Vice President of Format Acquisitions, ITV Studios, also took part at the ATF 2022 and shared here impressions from the meetings at the market with TVBIZZ Magazine. In this interview, Umansky also talks about the importance of not only having strong and recognizable format but also to be able to adapt them to the tastes of the local audience, which could be quite different, especially in Asia.
Love Island
Ella, you are acquiring global content for both production and distribution at ITV Studios. What are the latest trends in terms of formats? What kind of content is in demand and do talent shows still lead the top formats chart.
Commissioners across the board are trying to balance shrinking budgets with a need for strong, punchy and recognizable content. This has led to a much-discussed dominance of 'heritage' titles. Shows such as This Is Your Life have re-appeared in Australia to delight new audiences, whilst juggernaut brands such as The Voice continue to find new homes and big broadcasters fill their schedule with nostalgic titles.

Nonetheless, despite a degree of risk aversion, broadcasters and platforms need shows that can make a splash and Reality continues to deliver. The success of shows such as The Traitors have illustrated the power of strong characters and the importance of gameplay. We are really excited by the ongoing success of My Mom, Your Dad, which manages to be both headline-grabbing and cross-generational (a hard balance to strike!), whilst Loaded In Paradise speaks to the need for escapism and exploration, combined with a great game at its heart.

There is always a need for great talent formats, but to compete with the established brands, new formats need to bring an authenticity to the modern talent search. Project Icon is coming soon to BBC Three and promises to reflect and amplify real-life trends in the music industry rather than simply reworking the tried and tested talent formula.

You announced deals for 1000+ hours of scripted and non-scripted at ATF 2022. What are audiences in Asia mostly interested in watching and are there major differences in taste across different regions?
Drama is still king across much of Asia. The power of locally produced dramas such as Extraordinary Attorney Woo from South Korea or Mother from Japan mean that there is a packed market. However, strategic local partnerships mean that scripted remakes can really cut through, as we found with our partnership with SLL in Korea for their local version of Cleaning Up.

In unscripted, studio formats and high-volume gameshows still dominate, as we've seen in the ongoing success of 5 Gold Rings. In some territories such as South Korea there is a growing openness to more arced, character-driven stories, particularly around dating, which you can see in local formats such as CJ's EXchange. However, to really hit home in Asia, we still keep coming back to the desire for gamefication. A format such as Rat in the Kitchen - now in Mongolia - is in many ways a reality cooking format, but at it's heart there is a 'whodunnit' guessing game. Studio plus game is still the winning combination in Asia!

You took part in a panel about intellectual property at the ATF 2022. What are the main elements of a successful IP that travels to many territories and how is ITV Studios making sure its IP is being well-protected?
At the heart of every big brand is a good idea. For true global success a show needs time for audiences to come to it. It is always a fine balance to strike between building a brand from the start and letting a show breathe, but successful IP always has strong, recognizable format beats, combined with that little spark that makes it unique. We find that three series is often the sweet spot for success - it takes one series for audiences to find a show, two for them to understand it and three for them to share it. Formats such as Love Island, Hell's Kitchen and Come Dine with Me all took three series to truly take off internationally. However, we are in the business of building brands and we work with our local partners from the beginning to make sure that we are creating formats that are instantly recognizable, even where adaptations are needed to work for a local audience.

Loaded in Paradise

What have been the main take-aways from this year's Asia TV Forum & Market for you?
Firstly and most strongly, I was struck by the creativity of the production community. The format pitches and territory showcases are a great indication that Asia continues to be a source of great original IP. Coming the other way, however, it can still be a challenge to move past the classic gameshow tropes and find a way to bring longer-form stripped or arced content into Asia. There are titles bucking this trend, but I think there is still a great need for genuine partnerships to find and adapt IP that can work both in and out of Asia.

You have over 15 years of experience in the global formats business. How have things changed in the industry in the past few years?
The rise of the Streamers has long dominated conversations in the international market. The creative and strategic adaptation to content that has resulted from binge watching has had a profound effect on how we achieve and measure a format's success. And this is still evolving: broadcasters all over the globe are becoming Streamers in their own right. ITVX launched on December 8 with premium content available on a free and subscription model, and other broadcasters are also finding ways to service local audiences using a streaming model. On the flip of this, the big global Streamers are trying their luck with live coverage. All of this means that the dichotomy between streamers and broadcasters is blurring, and fundamentally, it means more homes for content at all budgets!

What are ITV Studios' hottest formats right now and what's in stock for 2023?
The tentpole formats such as Love Island and The Voice continue to travel, whilst new reality dating My Mom, Your Dad is now in 10 territories. We're also really excited about some of the new non-scripted formats coming down the line. Loaded in Paradise drops on ITVX later this month as the platform's first Reality launch. It sees five pairs race around a beautiful island in the hope of stealing a €50.000 gold card. But as soon as they get their hands on it and start living the life of luxury, their rivals will be on a mission to track them down!
Ella Umansky is ITV Studios' Vice President of Format Acquisitions, managing the flow of international formats and acquiring global content for both production and distribution. Most recently, she was responsible for the acquisition of brand-new entertainment format Queens For The Night, as well as securing pan-territory deals for survival series Alone and Couples Therapy.
Prior to her current role she was responsible for the global rollout of ITV Studios’ extensive slate of award-winning formats, including The Chase, I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, Hell’s Kitchen, Come Dine With Me and the international juggernaut Love Island.
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