Risky busi­ness

Home-grown for­mats are strug­gling to com­pete with the global fran­chises that rule TV, writes An­drew Fen­ton

Herald Sun - Switched On - - On The Couch -

AF­TER a dis­as­trous year for orig­i­nal Aus­tralian re­al­ity for­mats, net­works are re­con­sid­er­ing their com­mit­ment to de­vel­op­ing home­grown shows.

Ev­ery­body Dance Now, axed last week for the sort of rat­ings even SBS looks down on, is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of a lo­cal for­mat to fail badly. Add to that list The Shire, Ex­cess Bag­gage, Be­ing Lara Bin­gle and Young Tal­ent Time.

Ten’s de­ci­sion to gam­ble heav­ily on so many new for­mats has not paid off, with pro­gram­ming chief David Mott forced to step down on Fri­day.

And it looks like the heav­ily pro­moted Out­back tal­ent quest I Will Sur­vive may fol­low him out the door, strug­gling for at­ten­tion up against toprat­ing The X Fac­tor.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween those two shows neatly en­cap­su­lates the dilemma fac­ing pro­gram­mers: Why take a chance on a new lo­cal pro­gram when you can sim­ply buy in a proven for­mat from over­seas that’s more likely to work?

Like most of the big hits at present, The X Fac­tor is the lo­cal ver­sion of a global TV megabrand — with at least 39 ver­sions screening around the world.

If it wasn’t for a cou­ple of no­table home-grown ex­cep­tions such as The Block and My Kitchen Rules, Aus­tralian re­al­ity TV mak­ers would be in dan­ger of do­ing noth­ing but churn­ing out lo­cal adaptations of in­ter­na­tional for­mats.

The Voice, the year’s big­gest hit, is cred­ited with giv­ing Nine its mojo back — but has done sim­i­lar busi­ness for 44 broad­cast­ers in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Aus­tralia’s Got Tal­ent screens in 50 coun­tries, MasterChef’s in 45, The Farmer Wants a Wife is in 27 and the most pop­u­lar brand, Who Wants to Be a Mil­lion­aire — screening here as Mil­lion­aire Hot Seat — has about 100 edi­tions..

Nine’s di­rec­tor of pro­gram­ming, An­drew Back­well, says lo­cal ver­sions of in­ter­na­tional for­mats are less risky.

‘‘ If a show works in the US or the UK and does well around the world, gen­er­ally we find it works in our mar­ket,’’ Back­well says. ‘‘ Not al­ways, but it does re­duce the risk.’’

Keenly aware of Nine’s own dis­as­ter with an orig­i­nal weight loss show Ex­cess Bag­gage — which was shunted to GO! af­ter fail­ing to mea­sure up to The Big­gest Loser (screening in 26 coun­tries) — Back­well isn’t gloat­ing over Ten’s fail­ures.

An Aus­tralian for­mat for the world is the holy grail

‘‘ I don’t think it’s just a Chan­nel 10 is­sue,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s just the mar­ket. There are so many re­al­ity shows on air and com­pe­ti­tion is so fierce, be­cause now you’ve got the multi-chan­nels and ev­ery­one is bat­tling to get view­ers.’’

So why do the net­works bother de­vel­op­ing any home­grown for­mats?

Pride, for one thing, says Tim Clu­cas, from Fre­mantleMe­dia, which pro­duces both in­ter­na­tional fran­chises (Aus­tralia’s Got Tal­ent) and lo­cal (Ev­ery­body Dance Now).

‘‘ An Aus­tralian-orig­i­nated big-TV for­mat for the world is the holy grail, and both out of pride and for fi­nan­cial rea­sons you want to do that,’’ Clu­cas says.

‘‘ You don’t just want to be sit­ting here mak­ing other peo­ple’s for­mats.’’

There have been a few lo­cal suc­cess sto­ries, like Thank God You’re Here, which spun off into 19 ver­sions around the world. The My Kitchen Rules for­mat was re­cently sold to the US and The Block, de­vel­oped in-house at Nine, has 13 in­ter­na­tional edi­tions. If Ev­ery­body Dance Now had taken off, 20 ter­ri­to­ries had ex­pressed in­ter­est in adapt­ing it — demon­strat­ing the po­ten­tial re­wards for tak­ing such a risk.

But for all the rat­ings the global me­gabrands can de­liver, they come with sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tages. Se­cur­ing the rights is ex­pen­sive, about 5 to 10 per cent of the bud­get. On a big show that’s about $40,000 an episode.

That might get you the for­mat, the ti­tles and mu­sic — and per­haps some con­sul­tants to help with de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing. Other rights need to be ne­go­ti­ated sep­a­rately — for ex­am­ple the abil­ity to of­fer video on de­mand or be­ing able to ‘‘ in­te­grate’’ ad­ver­tis­ers, a la Coles on MasterChef.

‘‘ The great ad­van­tage in de­vel­op­ing your own for­mats is you own all those rights and you con­trol them,’’ says Back­well. Any changes net­works make — such as im­prove­ments to MasterChef Aus­tralia and the Aus­tralian idea for live evic­tions on Big Brother— be­comes the prop­erty of the for­mat owner. ‘‘ Not a cent flows back,’’ Clu­cas says. The fail­ure of Ex­cess Bag­gage, Ev­ery­body Dance Now and I Will Sur­vive is bad news not only for Fre­mantleMe­dia, but for the in­dus­try.

Clu­cas says ev­ery time a lo­cal show fails, the net­works be­come a lit­tle more gun-shy.

But Back­well is more op­ti­mistic. ‘‘ Just be­cause we’ve had a show that hasn’t worked doesn’t mean we’re not go­ing to do any more lo­cal ideas,’’ he says, adding if the net­work hears a good lo­cal pro­posal they think will work: ‘‘ We’ll back it be­cause the ben­e­fits are re­ally big.’’

Home­grown re­al­ity TV shows have taken a hit this year.

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