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Adam Smith

Managing Director

The Rise of the Scripted Format

It wasn’t long ago that the thought of buying a scripted format was seen as far too much risk compared to buying final content or non-scripted formats.

Considering the whole market, the successful purchasing and execution of licensing a scripted format for local adaption is still relatively small, but due to new technologies and better collaborations around more in depth format bibles, we are seeing a rise in this trend.

So why has this been slow to start? Well, to begin with, the adaptation of script requires far more effort, or some would say ‘luck’ than other genres. Knowing how local audiences will react to adapted scripted content is always uncertain, which opens up risk. It’s not like a gameshow where success in 20 regions guarantees success in the next 10 - there are more factors at play. Add to that the fact that scripted shows are are much more expensive to produce, simply compounds the risk even further. But get it right, and the rewards are plentiful.

The growth has been slow but steady - which can also be down to the fact that drama departments struggled to get used to the idea of reproducing a recipe from abroad.

Let’s take a journey back in time 15 years to the early 2000s. Game shows represented roughly 60% of traded TV formats, reality just less than a third, while scripted was 6.6%. Fast forward to 2010, fueled by a more sophisticated TV audience as we entered the golden age of television, and lowbrow daytime and Saturday Night game shows drop to less than a third, reality and non-scripted tips the 50% mark, and scripted TV doubles to 15%.

This is still fairly slow growth. We know this is because scripted shows are notoriously difficult to adapt, and largely that's down to cultural differences and the complexity around the knowledge transfer. But now, format buyers, through the likes of systems like Rawnet One (a B2B TV Sales & Screening System), have access to full consulting packages that teach them everything they need to know to duplicate a format successfully.

Detailed production bibles, often hundreds of pages, easily accessed through an online collaborative system, contain information about run-throughs, budgets, scripts, set designs, casting procedures, host profiles and even how to select the contestants most likely to produce TV gold!

Internet technology also gives better access to consultant producers who no longer need to travel overseas. And this is a process that just continues to get slicker - the skill in transferring expertise after the format has travelled a few times is honed to perfection.

But it’s not just copy/paste, as we know scripted genres are culturally sensitive, especially comedies that can not be replicated as mechanistically as a game show or talent competition. X-Factor for that very reason exports and can be duplicated far easier than The Office, which needed a cultural rewrite to suit the US, even if the ‘what made this awesome in the first place’ remains sacred and consistent.

In today’s market, unscripted formats (the major hitters, X-Factor, I’m a Celeb etc), can effortlessly sell to 20 local adaptations - international buyers, using a system like Rawnet ONE, can easily review ratings data and detail the show’s performance in a large array of territories, before committing themselves.

So whereas that can be seen as a safe bet, the reception of scripted, where the audience needs to engage less superficially, is more problematic.

The recent boom

Like everything, technology is breaking down this barrier. Buyers get so much more support these days from producers and access to detailed online, interactive production bibles. They get the story line and the best way to produce it. When loading a bible into a sales platform, we can now add key information about characters, story drivers, dynamics, and even the shooting schedule. It’s also increasingly common to give access to a creative team as part of the consulting packages - and ensuring they’re accessible to hold conversations with the writer/producer responsible for the adaptation.

One of the best recent examples of this is The Bridge. Co-produced by Filmlance from Sweden, later acquired by Shine in 2009. This was famously reproduced into The Tunnel by another Shine company, but Lars Blomgren, who produced the original, acted as the executive producer for both adaptations.

To summarise, the rise of the scripted format will dominate the next few years, specifically as we look to engage a more sophisticated viewer - the easy copy/paste of a gameshow may translate easier, but it’s harder to get traction. Hollywood studios are now trawling through their catalogues to capitalize on the new format selling platforms in the market. Yes the risk will always be higher than non-scripted, they will always be far more expensive to produce, but scripted formats add volume and sophistication beyond the mundane and formulaic daytime international travellers.

Rawnet are a digital agency at the heart of innovation within the TV & Broadcast space. Find out more about our work with the likes of ITV, Fox, Banijay and Cineflix or book a demo of our revolutionary product transforming the distribution process here. Book a demo.