The Evolution of ITV Studios’ Formats on the Screen and Beyond
BY Georgi R. Chakarov
ITV Studios has been among the leaders in adapting its hit formats for various types of target audiences on TV screens, digital platforms, multimedia services and virtual and real-life experiences. In this exclusive interview with Georgi R. Chakarov, Pascal Dalton, Head of Brand Partnerships, Northern EMEA, digs deep into the process of turning a format into a 360-degree brand and talks about some of ITV Studios’ biggest success stories and how the markets evolve in terms of demand for diverse content that can be easily adapted to target various types of audiences and consumers.
Pascal Dalton, Head of Brand Partnerships, Northern EMEA
Pascal, you have held several different roles with the ITV Studios management structure. What are your current responsibilities and tasks within the group?
I manage and oversee all format sales into Northern EMEA, collaborating with ITV Studios’ production companies and with third-party licensees. Within the ITV Studios family, I join forces with ITV’s fully owned production companies (such as ITV Studios Germany) to secure shows like Make Love, Fake Love with RTL+ or in the UK for My Mum, Your Dad produced by Lifted Entertainment for ITV1 and ITVX. In regards to third parties, we license formats directly to broadcasters and/or producers in territories where we don’t have a fully owned production company - for example, The Voice with Dok1 in Belgium.

We work closely with the other commercial divisions at ITV Studios in a 360 manner. In other words, we review where we can integrate digital platforms such as YouTube, assess the finished tape opportunities, and review if there are any licensing opportunities to represent the IP and the brand as one. The end goal is to represent the best interests of each format brand, in each local market, and in every deal.

The international format business has developed to the point where shows literally turn into franchises and brands that go well beyond the screens. Could you mention some of ITV Studios’ biggest brands and how they have evolved recently to grow your business and that of your clients?
Yes, and that is exactly our vision at ITV Studios. We are very fortunate to have some incredibly successful franchises that have travelled the world but also lend themselves to spin-offs and go beyond screens. The more obvious ones are The Voice, Love Island, Come Dine with Me, Hell’s Kitchen, The Chase, I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here and more recently The Perfect Picture. Naturally, our formats continue to evolve and develop, into areas beyond the initial TV offering. We’ve partnered with P&O Cruises where guests can participate in a karaoke adaptation of The Voice aptly named ‘The Voice of the Oceans’. We’ve opened Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen restaurants in numerous markets. Later this year we’re celebrating its sixth one in Connecticut in the US. With many brands, we’re selling consumer products such as the Love Island water bottles and cookery items around Hell’s Kitchen, board games with Schitt’s Creek and so on.

YouTube continues to be an important strategic component of the promotional and commercial activities of the group. The Voice Global YouTube channel now has 10.4 million subscriptions. The World of Love Island YouTube channel, since its conception in 2021, has 145.000 subs which pursues a healthy growth path.

On the ad-funded side, we have formed a close bond with Canon, with The Perfect Picture where we have secured investment into various productions. Outside of the original Dutch version on RTL, a Polish version aired earlier this year on TVN. It’s also being recommissioned for a second series with SABC in South Africa and we’re very excited to work on a number of other new deals which we’ll announce later this year.

In conclusion, part of the creative evolution of these brands is that the IP and the brands themselves are successful commodities, and as you can see, we have been quite busy.

How is ITV Studios adapting to the fast changes on the media and entertainment market? Do you have plans for expansion in AI and the metaverse?
Our brilliant Brand & Licensing team, led by Jurian van der Meer, is responsible for all global commercial activities including sponsorship, brand licensing, consumer prod- ucts, gaming and live events. The team is exploring how brands can be integrated into the metaverse, how users interact with this content, and how we can create value and enhance the viewer experience within the metaverse environment.

We’ve launched several projects in the metaverse already with brands such as Hell’s Kitchen, The Voice and Come Dine with Me.

With Hell’s Kitchen, we have partnered with The Sandbox to spice up the metaverse with Gordon Ramsay. Through the partnership, Hell’s Kitchen restaurant experiences designed with input from Ramsay will be hosted on ITV’s LAND in The Sandbox soon. Additionally, limited edition Gordon Ramsay avatars were available, and they sold out before the official sale started.

In November, we integrated The Voice pop-up into the Decentraland Music Festival and this was in the top 3 best-visited areas of the festival. A few weeks ago we launched The Voice Studios in Decentraland, where fans from all over the world can unlock new voice experiences through games, competitions, fan rewards, digital items and more in the virtual world.

MultiStory Media (an ITV Studios label) and Metaverse creative agency Metavision, partnered to launch Channel 4’s award-winning, globally popular Come Dine with Me into the Metaverse (Come Mine with Me), with players now able to go head to head to become the ultimate dinner party host in a newly released Minecraft world.

The Voice Entrance

ITV is both global and local, producing in 13 countries across 60+ labels, distributing content all around the world. What is the secret of a strong, successful and long-term partnership in today’s industry overwhelmed with content?
Viewers are faced with more choice than ever before and that’s an opportunity to support our clients and move with the times. You have to be prepared to offer compelling arguments to buy one show over another and to have patience. It’s ok to be flexible in your deal-making and/or local adaption when necessary. ITV Studios is in this for the long game and clients appreciate that we are going on a journey with them, supporting them where necessary, and helping them reach the audiences that are so hard to predict in this current environment.

We have some exceptionally noisy formats that are able to hold their own in an industry full of choice. Scared of The Dark (produced by Multistory for Channel 4 in the UK) and I Kissed A Boy (produced by Two Four for BBC THREE in the UK) both bring plenty of buzz and noise, which are backed up by the results. I Kissed A Girl, season two of the Twofour format was announced this week. We’re working on several global leads as we speak on both of these formats - so watch this space.

Marketing plays a significant and crucial role in content discovery and we will continue to roll out our formats at our market-leading annual showcase at the London Screenings. We present this in a world-class manner that is both engaging and entertaining for our clients where they can deep dive into the content and see what makes them tick. We’re extremely proud of this especially as ITV Studios created the seeds of this event almost a decade ago. Equally important is the one-to-one advice, trust, support and opinions that we share with our partners and clients.

Measuring success presents an enormous challenge in today’s world when overnights, social media and consolidated numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Those numbers are also subject to various degrees of interpretation depending on who is analyzing them. What success means for one client may be different to another. It’s not a surprise, therefore, whilst commissioners continue to have a close look at the numbers they are looking more at the content itself - is it noisy enough to work on VOD, will it maintain a linear audience and how can it be locally adapted? As a company that survives on the success of its brands, we really look at how we market performance and present a story that is honest and factual.

So, there isn’t one factor that you can point towards, it’s a combination of many ingredients that makes successful distribution and production possible. We’re lucky to have incredibly talented people both on the creative and commercial side at ITV Studios as well as smart local producers and forward-thinking broadcast partners. Working together we can deliver the best version of our shows across the globe.

You focus on the Northern EMEA region, which is quite diverse, and if we zoom in to the CEE countries it gets even more challenging. What trends have you observed on the different markets? One would think that CEE is quite different from the Nordics for example, but is it really that way?
Every television market has its challenges in some way, don’t they? In my opinion, that’s what makes the region exciting and the job fun. CEE has its own micro-climates and is actually more fragmented than one may expect. Some territories are influenced by the Latin-speaking countries such as Spain and Italy whilst others are more influenced by Benelux, DACH and the Nordic region. You then have further grey areas; some co-productions will work well between Czech and Slovak or the Balkan, but others won’t. Then on the client side RTL, United Group and CME are interconnected across various countries but not all, and naturally, they will be reviewing what their channels are buying within their respective groups and how they efficiently produce. Nordics, or any other region, isn’t so different to CEE and that’s why you see shows like My Mum, Your Dad, Love Island and The Voice perform so well. What does set these differences apart is how those formats are adapted to suit local needs, but there are similarities too - such as budgets and audience appetites.

Monopoly/Schitts’ Creek

Furthermore, it’s perhaps easy to assume that formats need to travel to 10 or more countries before they are produced in CEE but it’s not quite so clear cut. Yes, we sell stalwarts such as The Voice, The Chase, Love Island and I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! but it’s often the CEE markets that are the first to buy the brewing formats. Make Love Fake Love (aka Ready to Mingle) sold to Viasat3 in Hungary as the first sale outside of the UK, before appearing on RTL+ in Germany, and we’ll shortly announce a brand new CEE territory. Rat in the Kitchen was also picked up by Viasat3 in Hungary after its US debut. CEE deserves a lot more attention and recognition for this and by the way, this is not a new phenomenon.

In terms of trends, we are still seeing a need for daily reality, prime- time shiny floor, and daily game/quiz. What has changed over the years is there is more diversification in the needs of buyers as they build their VOD audiences and avoid alienating their linear viewers. It’s a fine balance for all commissioners now and will continue to be one.

What are ITV Studios’ biggest brands in CEE? What have been some of the latest deals and successful partnerships in the region?
Come Dine with Me Czech on Prima continues its monumental success - we have just gone into production for series 28 which demonstrates the brand’s strength. Earlier this year TVN in Poland produced their first version of CDWM Couples and we’re following up on new leads continuously in CEE.

We’re delighted to see that Love Island has travelled within CEE to new markets such as Romania and Albania and is being renewed in places like Poland and Czechia.

The Chase and Beat the Chasers have been the growing brands, although The Chase has been produced for many years in Serbia and Croatia it’s only recently that we’ve secured new deals in Czechia and Bulgaria. Five minutes before The Chase comes on air on Nova in Czechia, there is a massive audience migration to Nova from other channels with viewers eager to watch the show. It’s established a huge fan base.

We’re seeing new deals for the fresher formats such as My Mum, Your Dad which will be announced soon, which I am confident will lead to other territories picking it up in CEE. Alongside, we are consistently working hard to renew the established format brands that continue to be successful across the region - even one specific to the region like I Love My Country. We’ve established a production alliance with Jake Vision in Poland which is proving to be a complimentary partnership.

Is ITV Studios looking to co-develop new original formats with partners from the region?
Yes absolutely, I am currently working on pitching an original format, created by one of our UK labels which has been piloted in the UK. We’re looking for a partner that will work with us to co-develop this idea to the next level with a guarantee of commission, where we are prepared to offer a position on the IP.

We’ve also worked creatively with CEE partners to develop existing IP. In the Bulgarian version of Hell’s Kitchen for Nova TV, we co-developed the format into an (almost) daily version from a weekly. It airs three times a week across 39 episodes and broke records this spring against the seventh series of Survivor. Creative flexibility can really pay off with the right approach.

What type of content is currently in demand? Are there genres which are more fitted for linear broadcasts and such which work best on digital/streaming platforms?
Generally speaking, noisy daily formats seem to be what’s peaking interest right now. There is huge competition for eyeballs - more than ever before. Not only on traditional linear platforms and streamers but also on social media and YouTube. We launched Loaded in Paradise on ITVX in December 2022 which was the only non-scripted commission on the platform. All fifteen episodes were available on ITVX initially and three months later a linear run was broadcast on ITV2 and the show has recently been recommissioned for a second series due to launch in Fall this year.

We need content to appeal to linear viewers and digital/streaming platforms in a symbiotic manner. Linear is still delivering a higher volume of advertising revenues despite some recent declines but you have to also attract a younger audience and create content which appeals across the board. My Mum, You Dad is a single-parent dating format where their teenage kids influence the action. It’s a really interesting proposition when it comes to this need as it appeals to audiences both young and old - hence why ITV is putting it on their main linear channel - ITV1 and in France it’s launching on TF1. In addition to the US, the show has launched in Sweden and in Australia, where a second season has been commissioned.

Make Love, Fake Love

You are one of the judges of PITCH & PLAY LIVE!, the pitching competition for original formats from CEE, taking place during NATPE Budapest. What will be the main elements and features you will be looking at when voting for the winning project?
Firstly I would say that a good show can come from anywhere. I may love the concept of an idea but if I can’t see its route to market without significant hurdles it’s going to be a challenge for me to back it. So, my voting will be determined by three main factors: IDEA - How good is the idea itself? Does it compete in today’s market? Does it have a zeitgeist? Is it scalable? Is it original but familiar enough for audiences not to be alienated?; LAUNCH AND PLATFORM - How did it launch? Will it work on linear and VOD? What’s the episode run? Is it daily or weekly?; and INTERNATIONAL - Will it travel? Do I see it as a format or could it work as both tape and format?

I’m excited to see the new ideas and wish all entries the best of luck.
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