Keshet's Cynthia Kennedy: Adaptations Sometimes End Up Being More Famous Than the Original

Cynthia Kennedy, Sales Director at Keshet International

Cynthia Kennedy, Sales Director of Keshet International, discusses 'Rising Star', 'Boom!', award winning 'Homeland' and international format business.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Do you think Rising Star is different from other singing talent shows? Or why does it have such good sales internationally?

From the viewers’ point of view we came up with the idea that viewers were disconnected and less engaged with the talent shows they were watching. Viewers didn’t care that much about judges opinions, they didn’t want to wait to see voting results, and they wanted to be more actively involved; the app in Rising Star accomplished this last task. From the broadcasters’ point of view shiny floor shows are never going to go away: they will be popular and they will always be in demand. For advertisers it’s great to know that the audience will be there to watch their commercials: because Rising Star is a live show incorporating live voting, it’s not something people will record and watch later. Also the fact that you register through Facebook or Twitter means there is valuable and specific information about your audience, in terms of learning your target group to improve advertising.

Is the singing competition genre too crowded?

Like I said it will never go away, I think we saw when The Voice came around everybody thought “another singing show” and it turned out to be a huge success. We will just always have to be more and more creative in keeping the audiences attention.

Let’s say I’m a broadcaster and I previously acquired maybe Idols or some other talent format. Why should I switch to Rising Star?

Well, that’s a very good question. Remembering that Keshet itself is a broadcaster and Keshet International is the distribution arm of that broadcaster we built the lab basically when we launched Rising Star. We did it as a new generation of talent shows after what we had - a more classic talent show in format style - and decided to replace that with something that puts more control in the hands of viewers. And obviously our partners who bought the format already have the knowledge that this is the direction singing talent shows are going.

So your benefit is that your formats are also tested?

Absolutely. We have proven by showing these formats on Keshet channel in Israel that they have worked - we always have ratings history with formats we sell.

Something like Netherlands - they can also test new formats on their channels…

The funny thing is when you are mentioning Netherlands - when you think about something like The Voice - The Voice started in Netherlands but became internationally successful after a U.S. launch. Most people who watch the show think it’s an American idea - and it’s not. It’s the same with Dancing with the Stars: nobody in America realizes Dancing with the Stars is based on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Sometimes the adaptation ends up being more famous than the original. I doubt very much that many people who were watching Rising Star realized that it was a show from Israel.

Do you think adding new media and a second screen experience is important? There were times when content creators thought that every new format has to have “app aspect”.

That’s true there was a moment when everybody considered having a second screen companion. Money Drop was a great example of a “play along”. I think we are moving away from a play along aspect to something much more interactive - not just a second companion but having an opportunity to influence the show. In Keshet we are focused on developing new show concepts where there’s this interactivity. Not necessarily focusing on just the talent singing show genre but maybe in business factual genre or an array of other genres.

What about Million Second Quiz?

It’s very interesting you bring up this example. Because it incorporated live and interactive components before Rising Star and critics were like “oh, is it gonna be the next Million Second Quiz”? Thankfully it wasn’t.

You also introduced Boom! in 2013/2014 season. I saw it, but in my opinion it was a very normal and average game show.

It’s fun though, sort of bringing back the physical game show. It has everything we enjoy watching like Wipeout for example with a combination of the classic quiz show, targeting an audience who would like to watch quiz shows and answer the questions correctly. How do you combine these two very different audiences? I think Boom!. It’s something that the entire family would enjoy watching because it has tension, drama, and brings you back to action movies like Mission Impossible, James Bond etc.

You offer format “bible”, consultations and expertise, but what do you require? Some companies are - or used to be - pretty strict, they wanted control over cast, judges, hosts and other elements…

I think those days are over. I know it from personal experience… I remember when I worked at BBC Worldwide, particularly on the game show Weakest Link, they were very strict about who you cast as a host. But that was many years ago and now it’s much more about collaborative procedures. We’re not there to dictate to our clients how to make the show; we trust that our partners know their audience and market. And I think it depends on the genre as well. When you have a game show you have a set mechanism for the game with a certain flow to the show. This makes it harder to implement change, whereas if you have docu-reality series there’s more room for creativity and doing things differently.

Your scripted drama format Prisoners of War, known as Homeland in USA, is quite a specific case. How is it adaptable to other markets?

That’s a case of not just translating scripts from Hebrew into local language and having actors read line by line. There is a lot work that goes into this. If you saw the Israeli version, the essence of the story is the same. But even from the very first episode of Prisoners of War there is a negotiation for hostages to be returned. In America they have a policy of not negotiating with terrorist, so from the very beginning it is a different show, but the plot is the same. Comedy is also a good example because humor is so different in different parts of the world, it’s difficult sometimes to adapt it. I think culturally between Israel and for example CEE territory there’s more adaptability, especially for comedy, whereas maybe American or British humor isn’t translated easily into shows.

Is Prisoners of War a universally adaptable format?

We have format deals in place in several territories including Russia, Turkey, Korea, some South American countries, and we will announce others in the near future. The thing with Prisoners of War is that if you’re not in a war region you don’t really have context to set it in. So thankfully most of this part of the world is quite peaceful and therefore there’s less context for that kind of story. On one hand this is great news but on the other side bad news because we can’t easily sell the format. But because of Homeland’s success there’s a lot of interest from broadcasters to show the series that inspired Homeland, so Prisoners of War sells successfully to many territories from USA to Canada, Scandinavia, France, Germany or Australia.

What can we expect from Keshet in the near future?

We expect to rollout Rising Star into new markets, this being one of our focuses. And by MIPCOM in October we expect to have many new formats to launch. With the goal to enter genres that don’t necessarily exist in our catalogue right now, for example cooking. We’re always trying to find things that complement the catalogue we already have.

The story first appeared in Stratégie magazine and Straté Interview was recorded at NATPE Europe market in Prague.