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TV formats trend: from reality shows to true reality

TV formats trend: from reality shows to true reality
By Eri Garuti
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Celebrities’ lives are no longer the centre of the media universe. TV programmers’ interest is shifting to social issues and other themes related to the public’s daily experience.

This is one of the trends reflected at MipFormats and MipDoc, two parallel events that took place in Cannes on April 11-12, 2015, just before the opening of the traditional TV market, MipTV. “The audience is looking for authenticity” is the mantra we’ve heard repeatedly throughout the event.

The main concern for producers and broadcasters is how to exploit the potential that multi-platform distribution offers to TV programs, and how to best conceive specific extensions able to engage the “volatile” audience typical of a digital environment. The youngest, “millennials” generation, in particular, is challenging content creators and running away from the TV set.

The first surprise is that quality content remains king, online as offline. Furthermore, viewers are even getting used to watching longer program formats on a mobile.

The recently launched documentary-oriented streaming network XiveTV has already gained 500,000 subscribers who are demanding science and history programs. “Our viewers watch entirely most of the 1-hour programs they select” co-founder Greg Diefenbach explains to euronews, adding that Millennials can and do follow their interests in depth and they are used to choosing what they want to watch. “So, since TV is a platform they can’t control, sometimes they are tempted to think it’s broken.”

While the trend is more dramatic in the USA, European audiences are also becoming more and more familiar with the idea of watching content on new platforms.

This autumn, BBC3 will be transformed into an online-only channel. This perspective, imposed for financial reasons by UK authorities, will represent an extraordinary chance to experiment new formats, with many possible multimedia extensions, and 80% of the shows will have to be specially commissioned for the channel.

China is also experiencing a huge shift towards a multi-platform vision. Yang Weidong, President of the online video company Tudou reveals: “Until 2013 we just put international programs online, but we realised this wasn’t giving the results we expected. We understood we needed specially conceived content, so we bought formats and co-produced localised versions with Endemol and Talpa. Chinese audiences require content to be adapted, but foreign producers tend to underestimate the need to meet local taste. The voice of China is the most successful TV show in the country and it is quite different from its original format.”

Engaging viewers across different platforms is a goal successfully achieved by talent shows like X Factor and The Voice, with masses of online votes, billions of views on YouTube and fans eager for extra content. But the most amazing strategy to connect with one’s audience and monetise the effort has been established by the reality show “Utopia”. Viewers who register are offered a ‘passport’ and over a million people have so far asked for it. This passport – a strong tool to build a community – can subsequently be enriched by stamps, depending on the steps of the multi-screen experience.

Apart from the digital world, dear old TV still offers some fresh ideas. From Northern Europe come innovative formats such as “The Crime Writers”, distributed by Zodiak, where six of the best thriller writers of Sweden have to live together for a while, revealing personal aspects, including traumas or episodes of their lives that have influenced their choice to write about killings. Emotions are guaranteed.

Another surprising format from Denmark is “A dish to die for”, a series of six cooking episodes where contestants have all kinds of ingredients available except meat. When they discover they have to kill animals by themselves, some of them are horrified and consider becoming vegetarian. Reality sometimes hurts.

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