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TV Program Formats for Sale

Posted October. 23, 2007 07:29,   


Fanny, an office worker in New York, comes home after work and turns on the television. When she presses the number for CBS, an American comedian rattles on and on to the other five not-so-friendly looking comedians who retort back to whatever each other says.

At the end of the show, she mutters, “not bad.” She sees “License from ‘X’ broadcaster in Korea” on the ending credits. When she turns to another channel, two Afro-Americans, who seem to have not met each other in a long time, hug each other and cry out, “Welcome, friend!”

With growing sales of TV program format licenses in the global broadcasting content market, it will not be long before Korean TV programs remade locally will come to viewers around the world, just like what Fanny has experienced. TV program format refers to an overall framework of programs, including how they are run and what kind of genre they take. Korean broadcasters, which have focused on exporting ready-made TV programs, are now turning their eyes to format sales.

KBS is currently negotiating with five to six partners, including the TV division of New Line Cinema, New Line TV in the U.S., for KBS’s “Happy Together Friends” format. KBS is also engaged in talks with major licensing agencies, including the William Morris Agency, on the sales of its other programs, such as “Imagination Plus”; “Sponge”; and “Singing Under The Plate.” MBC is also undergoing similar talks with a major production company based in New York on sales of its “Unlimited Challenge” format, and with Argentine and Mexican broadcasters on the dramas “Princess Hours” and “The 1st Shop of the Coffee Prince” formats. Next February, MBC will set up a cable channel in Vietnam called “Vina” and hire local actors and actresses to star in dramas adopted from Korean program formats.

As for SBS, talks are under way with CTC TV, a Russian network, on the sales of the “Becoming the Queen” format and ‘A’ media, a Russian production, on “Sweet and Sorrow, War of Money.”

Up until the 1990s, many program formats were copied by other broadcasters without legal consent since the very concept of “program format” was non-existent. However, things have changed. Program formats are now officially exported and imported. “One vs. 100” of KBS and “Solomon’s Choice” of SBS were also made from imported formats.

Producer Kwon Oh-dae of the KBS Global Strategies department said, “Format transactions are the new wave in the global broadcasting market. Some companies even offer consultations on the value of program formats, and there is also a special academy dedicated to nurturing format specialists with BBC Worldwide as its partner.” KBS has had already sold the formats of “Student Golden Bell” to China’s CCTV and a Vietnamese network. Japan’s Asahi TV has already aired the drama “Hotelier” in April, based on a format that was bought from MBC.

Format export goes beyond the simple transfer of ideas. Exporters send scriptwriters and producers to advise on the production of the whole program. Selling and buying program formats is different from remaking existing programs. Kim Yeong-hwan of the SBS planning team said, “Remaking is reproducing the program our way. However, format transactions enable producers to create dramas with the same images, sounds and general themes from the original ones.” Buyers of program formats pay about ten percent of their production cost to their sellers.

Park Jae-bok of MBC Global business headquarters said, “Due to cultural differences, producers in Europe and the U.S. place more emphasis on localization of programs by importing their formats. Format exports or exporting parts of programs will grow as large as program exports soon.”