Jan Maxa: 'Rising Star' Displays the TV Format Crisis

Jan Maxa. Picture: Czech TV/Mikulas Krepelka

"Format business is not as successful as couple of years ago," says Jan Maxa, Director of Content and Formats Development at Czech Television in our one-on-one interview.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

To me public Czech Television (Ceska televize) seems pretty flexible in the format area. Often new formats pop up at content markets and they’re put in your production plans quickly after. Is this a coincidence or do you deal with licensed formats more systematically?

Historically Czech Television didn’t acquired formats; there was 'StarDance' ('Strictly Come Dancing') and a few other entertainment formats but no dramas. One of the changes that my creative producers and I have introduced was a new approach. We, from the development point of view, say we don’t care whether the show is created in-house, comes from independent producers, or is licensed. In the end we are trying to deliver the best possible content for certain time slots in a given budget. Logically when there is a lack of Czech sitcom authors, we license formats such as 'The Office' or 'Everybody Loves Raymond'. While we also consider licensed formats in other scripted productions varying in genres. The result of adapting formats is that we don’t have rights to the finished product, they in a sense are “borrowed” from the licensee. We can’t underestimate this fact on future accounts; there is a need to produce fully owned content too.

Is this a problem especially with scripted dramas? I understand that if you do daily game shows it won’t hurt if the opportunity to repeat the show in a few years is not a plausible…

Exactly. 'Cash Cab' was licensed, as well as 'Pointless', and nobody worries that we won’t be able to repeat them after five years. But in drama this problem is present, after a certain period of time and airings you would have to re-purchase rights.

Format sellers don’t seem to be as strict as before for instance like approving hosts and production details of format adaptations. Do you think also the handling of rights will change?

Perhaps it would be silly to say that the format business has reached its pinnacle but it definitely had a strong booming period and now it seems to not be as successful as a couple of years ago, just like there aren’t enough quality formats on the international market. Big format companies try to offer dramas that they’ve never offered before and aren’t successful at it; often due to having old uninteresting pieces that they have rights to. I agree with you that when it comes to hosts that licensees give broadcasters more freedom, but I believe such flexibility won’t happen with rights due to it’s direct relation to its sales and distribution.

What do you think of new formats? Did you find something interesting on the global format market?

From the recent period, 'Gogglebox' captured my attention. First of all it’s brilliant in how it creates entertainment and secondly how it points a mirror on television and its place in society. Also 'Stalkers' seems to be a very interesting format. Each episode depicts a specific case of stalking; the format is created in a reportage way and clearly focuses on prime time. It has a story, characters, and its one-hour length is similar to a drama. In general, the factual entertainment genre is interesting: creators try to replace scripted drama with something else that’s cheaper yet realistic. This gives viewers real stories in a form not too different from what they are used to in drama series.
When it comes to the big entertainment genre I must say I found nothing appealing. Except from 'Superstar Dogs'. It is simple and fun with rivalries between dogs and their owners, with plots where the dog almost wins then before the finish line he poops or jumps aside. People can relate to this because in current times the mass population substitutes being in nature by adopting pets, thus this series connects with the emotional side of pet owners.

Recently, the biggest topic on the format market was 'Rising Star', but then the show got to America, where it didn’t "shine", and Great Britain bought the format too but never aired it...

When I was in Cannes last spring 'Rising Star' was discussed as one of the biggest disappointments, it seems to be an inflated bubble that offers no new format. Keshet had a big party presenting another new release, which was a combination of 'Dragons' Den' and other formats. This new concept was derived from something existing but presented in a nicer manner. Rising Star seems to be the same case. For me, it’s another example of what a crisis the format industry is in. Because they consider anything a new format; they just recycle from already used ideas adding a little more sparkle and pizazz then top it off with online elements.

Then why were there such sales for 'Rising Star'? Many markets bought it...

It was just a skillful presentation and smart selling techniques from the seller.

As you have indicated, creators add interactive features to formats, apps and so on. Are they important to you?

It’s something that definitely has a future, but some overvalue this idea believing it will significantly support the success of shows on TV. But we do see time shifted viewing has increased to similar levels of live television viewership. But television is a medium for the mid- and older generation while social media, online games, and apps become a major component of television format extension for generation X and Y. So mainly the people who don’t even own a TV set.

Then what can help formats if not this?

I don’t know. If I knew I wouldn’t sit here (laugh).

What is your vision of television entertainment in five years?

Certainly there will be channels, and now I don’t want to offend anyone, aimed at an older audience, giving viewers calm content. There will also be channels seeking ways to reach a younger audience while not scaring or losing the conservative ones. There will be more specialized channels that accept the fact that a large part of their viewers won’t watch them on a given time schedule. We are transitioning to a non-scheduled future, with the exception of events, elections, floods, and so on.

Jan Maxa previously worked in CME and Media Pro, heading own production of Czech Nova TV and Slovak Markiza. Later he was promoted to the role of Content Development Director for the entire CME group. As a consultant he has collaborated with Czech Television since 2011 and became head of content development in 2012.

The story first appeared in Stratégie magazine and Stratégie.sk.