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The Rise…and Continuation of the Format Business

February 21st, 2019


It was around the turn of the 20th century when a new program type emerged in the television landscape. It would be known as “The Format Business”. This new program type grew and evolved rapidly providing a substantial string of new concepts to major terrestrial broadcasters. And now, 19 years later, the ‘the unscripted competition show’ is starting to appear in the SVOD space with programs such as “Chef’s Table” airing on Netflix.
At ETS we thought we would look at how the market has developed over the last five years to understand the key changes that are taking place. Using our internal revenue systems, we calculated the largest earning shows across eight major European markets (63 of the largest stations across UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden and Poland). Using our unique systems to calculate the net-net advertising earnings of formats (or equivalent on stations which do not carry advertising) we believe the top 50 format shows contributed about 7% of all programme earnings. Over the last 5 years the overall market size has stayed remarkably static at around 2.1 billion Euros in both 2012 and the 12 months ending September 2018. Within this total the major change is a reduction in the value of formats in Spain offset by significant growth in Germany.

Million Euro Value

The countries which have the greatest opportunity for formats will inevitably be the biggest markets, not only because they have the greatest advertising revenues, but also production costs make the economics work better for formats in the larger markets. Although the titles with the highest overall value earnings have changed over the last five years, almost all the top 50 titles were already in the market five years ago and many of the major 2012 titles have seen falling earnings.


The major change over the last five years has been the growth of social formats (shopping, dating, house swapping amongst others) plus cookery shows, offset by the reduction of share for game shows and talent/music shows. High earning quiz shows have tended to settle into strip scheduling in pre-prime time bands whilst many of the food and competition formats in primetime can only run one or two seasons each year. There are few formats that can combine strip scheduling with very long runs in prime time.


Not for want of trying, but very few innovative shows have taken root over the last 5 years. All of the Top 25 titles in 2018 were already available in 2012.
Although formats are international – almost all successful shows to date are nationally produced versions. There is the occasional combined France/Belgium show, but no terrestrial station has successfully run a multinational competition format. Versions from other countries are rarely popular outside of their home market. However, SVOD likes the opportunity to amortise programmes across multi-national audiences, which raises the question of whether audiences can be persuaded to take an interest in people-orientated shows featuring either ordinary people or celebrities from elsewhere on the globe. Therein may lie the challenge for formats over the next 5 years.


Madigan Cluff/ ETS Ltd. January 2019

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