NEM Dubrovnik 2024: The search for the next big unscripted format

Formats experts have debated where and how producers can find the next big ideas that will get a green light and attract audiences in the local market and abroad.

12 JUN 2024

The unscripted panel

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NEM Dubrovnik finalized its 2024 edition focused on a challenging task: finding the following big unscripted format that can attract local and global audiences. "When you have a good idea, you must find the right distribution partner, the right production partner, the right strategy to get success," said Huub van Ballegooy, Senior Vice President of Global Creative & Production Support at ITV Studios. "Format's travel is not only about the content; it's also about the right price point, the right strategy, and the right partner, which are key ingredients for the next step," he asserted. Igor Draguzet, Chief Content Officer, CME, described the current audiovisual landscape and stated that everyone is suffering from the "terror of choice" because there are so many platforms and sources of content attacking people from everywhere, asking for people's attention. Sometimes, they don't know how to choose what to watch. "For that reason, people turn to familiar things that you know and like. And I think one of the secrets of great formats is being big umbrellas," affirmed CME executive. For Marina Williams, Chief Content Officer of Asacha, a good idea has to be joined with the right partnership and international element. "I don't think it's that simple that you do something for your local network, and it may be just very local, but you need to have that international thinking when you create a format to make it a success," she said.

Format experts have also debated about the CEE region's creativity. "I actually find this region to be the ballsiest when it comes to testing or redeveloping anything from our catalog," said Anahita Kheder, EVP EMEA, Formats & Licensing, Fremantle International. "There's value in buying the format, but when they look at a show, they see its essence. They see a DNA, and they don't need hand-holding throughout the process because there's enough creativity and enough bravery for them to take the very seed of a format they've licensed from us and build it out," she described. 

Igor Draguzet explained that there are two layers to creativity in the region: quality and quantity. He affirmed that the area lacks creativity, and "that's the problem." "Until recently, in most of this region, the volume of commissions going towards non-scripted formats was low. So that's why insufficient teams, professionals, or companies were developing in this area. And this is what we have to work on. So, now is the time to increase that effort because the proportion of commissioning budgets going to non-scripted formations is increasing. It will continue increasing in this region and the foreseeable future," he anticipated.

The executives discussed AI's influence in the unscripted sector in the same panel. "At the core of Unscripted is human emotion, its achievements, its laughter, its love, and those things are, right now, complicated to reproduce with AI," pointed out an ITV executive. For Kevin Soares, EVP of International Formats at IDTV, AI is already influencing the production process massively, so this will bring the budgets down and make more prominent brands available to more markets. "In that way, there's a huge impact. I even think that in production, it can be beneficial and successful," he affirmed. "We must all realize that we will work with AI; there is no other way; it's the future," said Marina Williams. "It's about at which stage of the development you use it, how you integrate it, and how you enhance your abilities, and vice versa. I can't see the future without AI," she said.

Telcos are entering the streaming space with their existing infrastructure to deliver on-demand content. Aleksandra Martinović, Director of the Multimedia Division at Telekom Serbia, asserted Telco operators have gone through significant transformation in the last decade. They've become a more digital and media company thanks to the exponential growth of the Internet. "Telecom Serbia entered into production almost six years ago, and we have three main segments when it comes to the content, feature content (films and series), sports, and news," said Aleksandra Martinović. In the feature content segment, Telekom Serbia has completely revitalized and renewed the Serbian film industry and Serbian film cinematography. "We have produced more than 100 titles till now, and some of them we sold to HBO Max, to Disney+, to GoQuest, and we built some very famous brand series, not only in Serbia but in the whole CEE region," she said. Peter Wassong, Head of TV Content Europe, Deutsche Telekom AG, affirmed they have a very dominant position in most markets they're operating in. "We not only have 4.3 million TV subscribers on the footprint, we also have, I think, 50 million unique contract households on the footprint, and that is a scale you can work with in the end," he said.

Regarding the relationship between Telcos and Streamers, Aleksandra Martinović said It's closer than it was. "We are heading into the direction of hyper-production and burdening end users with what and where they are watching something and how many applications they need for that, so I think that Telco provides that possibility and opportunity to offer the best for the whole world, the best for the traditional linear television and best from the streaming platforms, through only one click of the button," she explained. For Peter Wassong, Telcos can communicate with their customers differently than Streamers. "We have a very refined way of communication, we have loyalty progress, and that's very valuable because the OTT streaming services are very good at skimming markets, and then they just target the complete customers. He asserted that we can reach more difficult markets and have almost direct communication with our customers, and that is very good," he asserted.

SkyShowTime is a joint venture between Paramount and Comcast, and it has launched its ad-supported plan across 20+ markets, including Central and Eastern Europe. "Paramount and Comcast were looking at the landscape and saw this huge opportunity to expand in parts of Europe and to do so together, and so they came together to form SkyShowtime that brings together the best of both companies," commented Monty Sarhan, CEO, SkyShowtime. The platform is available in 19 languages, "that's costly, but I think you have to start with the consumer in mind and you have to make the content accessible for them, and if that's a barrier to entry or friction, and they can't understand it, then they're not going to want to subscribe," said Sarhan.

Regarding the SkyShotime catalog, Sarhan affirmed that the platform premiered ten original series last year. "We have original series for every one of our regions. We had a Polish production, a Czech original, a Swedish show, four originals in Spain, and we're on track to probably do about 8 to 10 shows this year as well," he affirmed. Sarhan described the crowded streaming landscape as people looking for more affordable options when it comes to streaming. "People are talking about streaming fatigue, and more services are taking up wallet share, and we want to maintain price leadership as well as maintain being good value for money," he concluded.

Jamie Phillips, VP of International Television & Digital Distribution, Emea, Lionsgate, has presented the new drama thriller series "Fake" that the company is launching for the CEE Region. The title is co-produced by Asher Keddie, actor and star opposite David Wenham in Paramount+ Australia. "Fake" follows Keddie's character, an innovative and brilliant writer who thinks she has found her ideal match when she meets a successful rancher, portrayed by Wenham, on a dating app. But after she commits, she discovers that her boyfriend isn't all he has led her to believe. "Which is the story of when you should trust your instincts when you know something is too good to be true, and it is," said Phillips.

By Romina Rodriguez, from Dubrovnik