Exploitation of Television Formats

Authors: Kretschmer, M., Singh, S. and Wardle, J.

http://tvformats.bournemouth.ac.uk/

Publisher: Bournemouth University

Place of Publication: Poole, England

Television formats such as The X-Factor or Britain's Got Talent are extremely popular with audiences. Over the last decade, the UK has emerged as the world's major format developer, accounting for between 20-50% of all format hours broadcast annually worldwide.

Yet, there is no such thing as a television format right under copyright law. Any producer is free to develop game, reality and talent shows that are based on similar ideas. "If no such rights exist, then the commercial rate for the format, at least from a legal point of view, is zero." (McInerney and Rose, 1999).

How then could format developers, such as Endemol or FremantleMedia become multinational companies, licensing their programmes around the globe? For example, Who wants to be a Millionaire has been recreated in 108 territories while local versions of Idols have aired (over 129 series) in 42 territories receiving about three billion votes.

Researchers from BU have studied the exploitation of television formats under an ESRC grant (RES-186-27-0012), as part of a joint business placement scheme with FremantleMedia, one of the major independent TV producers. The study created a database of 59 reported format disputes between 1988 (when the issue of TV format rights first surfaced in the landmark legal case of Green v Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand) and 2008.

The researchers then conducted semi-structured interviews with media sellers and buyers at three international television trade fairs (NATPE Las Vegas, DISCOP Budapest and ATF Singapore). The emerging patterns of exploitation were specified through three case studies of successful television formats developed by FremantleMedia: Idols, Got Talent and Hole in the Wall.

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