Magazine article Variety

Unscripted Skeins Dominate Pre-Confab Conversation

Magazine article Variety

Unscripted Skeins Dominate Pre-Confab Conversation

Article excerpt

The slow global economy - particularly in Europe - is continuing to dictate TV buys across the world, report international television distributors as the industry gets ready to head to Cannes for this year's Mip.

"What's really working right now is very characterdriven factual television, and those characters can either be celebrities or noncelebrities," says Karoline Spodsberg, managing director of Barujay Intl. "It's a way for people to escape from everyday life. They either love to follow these people because they wish they were them, or they are so happy they are not them."

The past year's biggest international success was "The Voice," a global format that was brought to NBC by Talpa, the production company of Dutch format wiz and TV entrepreneur John de Mol, after "The Voice of Holland" became a huge hit there. The show combines two trends that most executives refer to when talking about what international buyers seem to be seeking right now: characters and celebrities.

On the big-format front, the stellar performance of "The Voice" on otherwise bleak NBC has brought international attention to it and its stars: Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Gee Lo Green and Blake Shelton.

While the show's core premise - a singing competition - is nothing new, it's the show's mix of celebrities and the way they relate to each other and the competitors, stronger singing talent and competitive twists that seems to be drawing fresh audiences.

"What's so important right now is the package of talent that's built into a show," says John Pollack, president of international for Ben Silverman's EIectus. "The (competitive) talent on these shows has always been great; now networks are really stepping up the celebrity talent"

"The Voice" also is the next big international format - along the Unes of "Pop Idol," "X Factor" and "Got Talent" - for which buyers are always on the lookout because they are economically reasonable and low-risk.

"The format market is sustainable because it's a business model that benefits producers, broadcasters and audiences," says Rob Clark, director of global entertainment for FremantleMedia. "I don't see that there's ever going to be an end to this sort of market. If you are spending tens of millions of dollars on big network shows, you need to cut your risk."

EIectus hopes to have a "Voice"-level format success on its hands with "Fashion Star," which premiered in the U.S. March 13 on NBC and is sold in multiple territories. The show has the requisite celebrities, featuring Elle Macpherson as host and Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and designer John Varvatos as judges.

"Fashion Star" combines a few other familiar elements - intense competition, creativity and high stakes - with a twist: All the clothes that viewers see on the show will be available in Saks Fifth Avenue or H&M.

"It's totally interactive," says Pollack. "You can buy the winning clothing online that night, and buy it in stores the next day."

Digital tie-ins also are becoming more crucial across the globe, says Clark.

"The play-along aspect from either a social media or Internet point of view is something that's happening almost everywhere," he says. "It's not just a social media tie-in with the show, but actually secondscreen play-along. It's a drive to get the younger demos. 1 don't see myself lying on the sofa watching a gameshow and playing along, but I don't think my godkids would watch TV without it. …

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