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