RTÉ after a rich harvest with Format Farm
MEDIA & MARKETING:IF THINGS go to plan, five programmes in RTÉ’s autumn schedule, which was announced yesterday, will end up making money for the cash-strapped station.
The new strand of pilot programmes, called Format Farm, is the brainchild of RTÉ Two’s commissioning editor Eddie Doyle, and sees the station working with independent production companies and, crucially, global TV distributors to create formats that can be sold on to other markets.
The five pilots include The Takeover, a business makeover show fronted by Dragon’s Den’s Norah Casey, in which the boss of a struggling company – in the pilot it’s Teatime Express bakery – stands aside and lets the employees take over in a last-ditch attempt to save the business. Made by Louth-based production company Toto, it will be distributed by Sony.
The other pilot formats are The Hit, presented by Laura Whitmore (pictured right), a songwriting competition with Steve Lillywhite as judge, made by VIP productions and distributed by Warner; Baptism of Hire, a candid-camera type reality show; The Love Clinic, a dating/makeover show; and Six in the City, a raucous-sounding programme in which three couples show how to party in their own city.
The call for submissions for Format Farm went out earlier this year resulting in 60 ideas being pitched to RTÉ. The deal is that the production company gets part-funding of €25,000 from the station to make the pilot and it must partner up and get matching funds from a distributor.
If the programme format is then sold on to other markets, RTÉ gets a (publicly unspecified) cut.
The first programme airs on August 30th, good timing as Mipcom – the annual global TV trade expo where broadcasters and production companies go to buy and sell programmes – takes place in Cannes from October 8th-11th so the Format Farm pilots will have aired and there will be some audience feedback and numbers to – hopefully – help the sales pitch.
“Formats are the biggest things in TV at the moment, outside drama, and it’s something that we can actually score big on as a country,” said Glen Killane, managing director of RTÉ TV. “We’d look to the Israelis who are particularly successful at developing formats.”
It’s a success story RTÉ is wise to try to emulate. Last season US broadcast networks bought as many pitches based on Israeli formats as they did UK-generated formats – something that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.
In a scenario that resonates here, the seeds of success were sown when Israeli broadcasters realised they had a vibrant and creative TV production sector but that working in their own relatively small domestic market was not economically viable in the long term, and so they sought out foreign markets.
The door to the American market was opened with In Treatment – the US version starring Gabriel Byrne, became a multi-awardwinning hit, and mega successes such as Homeland and The Naked Truth followed.
Aside from drama, Israeli companies have developed winning and lucrative entertainment formats. Currently the most successful is a quiz show Who’s Still Standing?, where the losers exit dramatically through a trap door.
The US version is made by NBC and there are versions of the format in Spain, Turkey, France and Germany.
“We have got to be more innovative about where we get our funding,” said Killane. “And with Format Farm, we get great content, the independent sector gets to produce work and we strengthen our international contacts.”
And there is money to be made. ITV Studios’ Come Dine with Me, the low-budget reality series where people compete to throw the best dinner party, has sold to over 30 countries including Ireland, Croatia, Slovakia and Germany and by 2010, at the height of its popularity, it had made more than €70 million for ITV Studios.
Such was its instant impact it increased ITV Studios’ international production revenue by 41 per cent in 2009.
The Lyrics Board, Anonymous and The Restaurant are some Irish-devised formats that have sold internationally, but that was because independent production companies made and then went out and sold them. This time RTÉ is hoping that by getting in at the funding stage, it will also get in on the profits.