Television formats: Much more than mindless mush.

If we take a look at the weekly top 10 programmes for the UK’s  main 5 terrestrial channels we find that many programmes in the list fall under the title of television ‘formats’ BARB. These formats include programming like ‘The X Factor’ ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ ‘Top Gear’ and ‘The Gadget Show’ and within these formats lie complex, scientific methodology much to many surprise faces.

To come up with new formats and ideas broadcasters and producers may well pay thousands to find or come up with the next million dollar idea; in short, it pays to be a genius in this field. Even from the concept alone these ideas or pitches will be hired up, payed up and transported globally for big money. In Cannes, France, the MIPTV exhibition annually attracts around 40,000 people from the global television industry to do business with other global like-minds, selling and buying ideas which will later on hit household televisions everywhere (Media Guardian).  In must then require serious thought to judge whether an idea get the green light or the cheque book stays in the pocket.

As mentioned then, formats (and television generally) come down to a lot of scientific measurement and calculation, for commissioners, broadcasters, producers it can rely and several key ingredients which essentially link in with each other:

1. What’s working and what isn’t currently. If talent shows are big right now, work with it and mold it into something new, natural and different. Like business, playing on current markets and audience can be key to coming up with successful programming.

2. Audience. Perhaps a no brainier to find that television formats need audiences, these are researched endlessly and are tested on target audiences to see whether ideas work before they make it out onto screen. Good formats will also target wider audiences to gain bigger audience share and cater for the many. Branding is also something which helps an audience by giving them understand and meaning as well as comfort and security in what they are watching.

3. Emotion. Formats work well because they create and capture emotion. Feelings (the stronger the better) are essential for a programme to thrive and to keep hold of crucial viewer time. Good formats will get people talking and thinking, ultimately getting them involved.

4. ‘Watchability’ and ‘Replayability’.  Programmes only last from anywhere between 30mins to 120 mins so for the audience the programme has to be simple enough to watch throughout and easy enough to be watched again and again without having to wonder what is going on. Format Programming should allow audiences to pick up the show at anytime and understand what they are watching. Formats are also very consistent as they provide essentially the same experience each episode which is crucial for both makers of the show and watchers.

5. Flexibility and transferability. Format programming should enable programmes to go other places, i.e around the world in other countries or to new media platforms. Most new formats make use of online presence which adds new layers to audience interaction and participation. Formats are also very consistent as they provide essentially the same experience each episode which is crucial for both makers of the show and watchers, even for young people looking for work experience format programmes provide stability and solid expectation.


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