Talent key as global formats opportunities emerge

Ana Langenberg

Despite being a family member one of the biggest media outfits in the world, NBCUniversal Formats has never had a huge wealth of in-house producers to call upon as a source of formats.

With the coronavirus giving development teams an extended period to stretch their creative muscles, the team began working with its global production and broadcaster clients to explore opportunities for viable productions from its 119-strong formats catalogue.

The key, according to Ana Langenberg, senior vice-president of format sales and production, NBCU Formats, was targeting territories where restrictions were relaxing and accounting for tightened purse strings.

“It’s been a very busy six months because we’re still trying to figure out with clients where broadcasters are with revenues and budgets for production,” she says. “Lucky we have a broad catalogue of titles that can be adapted to a broadcaster’s needs – high-end big productions through to more flexible formats to be adapted according to budgets.

“We took a proactive approach to sit down with the team, go through the catalogue and have a list ready for formats that could work on reduced budgets. We talked about it with broadcasters, to make sure we have solutions ready for them.”

This includes new formats such as Celebrity Karaoke Club, which Langenberg says can be recorded in a “secluded studio where the celebrities just stay in their area all the time”. The series, which was developed by NBCU UK indie Monkey, recently premiered on ITV2.

“It lent itself to Covid social-distancing protocols and was pushed forward by us because it was the right time,” she adds. “We’ve been able to continue producing our cookery competition format Top Chef as well.”

Langenberg emphasises that its new launches like Karaoke Club and high-profile global returners such as Top Chef were important to keep pushing because of the need for premium programming after the glut of Covid-19-shot formats that entered the market.

“We said: let’s not just focus on Covid-friendly adaptations, people are going to be sick of seeing people on little screens,” she says. “What we have heard from producers and broadcasters is the need for feel-good, positive entertainment. Things that families can watch together and forget about what’s going on.”

A crucial aspect to escapism is the attachment of talent to their formats, which has been reflected in recent additions to their catalogue. Along with Karaoke Club, the team has That’s My Jam, developed and produced by Universal Television Alternative Studios and Jimmy Fallon through his Electric Hot Dog indie, which sees celebrity teams face off in a variety of musically inspired games.

Elsewhere, they have added Celebrity Game Face, from Critical Content and Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat Productions, which grew out of a quarantine special produced back in June on US network E!

When budgets are being squeezed, having recognised talent can be a draw for commissioners, needing a win. “Budgets are definitely under pressure, we know advertising revenues have gone down dramatically and cost of production has gone up because of Covid,” she says. “Talent is crucial, so spending money on talent is crucial.”

As repeat business is problematised by ever-decreasing margins, NBCU Formats has had a welcome boost from last year’s integration of Sky Vision into its wider distribution operations. Langenberg’s formats team has seen “strong titles in fact-ent” added to its roster, “which we didn’t have as much of previously”.

BBC1’s Hungry Bear Media-produced series Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, which attracted major interest from buyers during the London Screenings this year, was complemented by Blast Films’ Secret Life of the Zoo format, which is “doing very well in the Netherlands”.

“The Big Hospital Experiment, also from Blast, is a show that’s been optioned in lots of territories,” she adds. “We don’t have as many production companies [around the world]. It’s great for us to be working with more creative teams that think differently. It gives us more possibility of bringing more titles into catalogue where we didn’t have much choice.”

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