Formats have been part of the television landscape since the first game shows migrated from the radio to the small screen at the dawn of television. And when Candid Microphone moved over to the new medium in 1948, reality formats were born — although it would take another 50-plus years for the term ‘reality television’ to enter the global lexicon.
Almost immediately, as the popularity of these shows grew, copycats sprang up. Some might agree with Oscar Wilde that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. But for anyone who has ever felt ripped off, “imitation is the sincerest form of theft” would be more accurate. And so, the notion of protecting your ideas from theft began to gather momentum as it became clear that show ‘recipes’ had real value. It also became clear that, unless something was done to protect those ideas, unscrupulous companies would simply appropriate them, stealing not just recognition but potentially great sums of money from their creators, producers, and distributors.
FRAPA was founded at the turn of the millennium when the explosion of creativity in unscripted televised content was in the process of changing the media landscape forever. Back 20 years ago it was the Wild West in terms of copyright theft and infringement. Major companies were suing major companies over ownership of formats, over details of gameplay, over the very idea that one could create and own an original idea for a show. And those that were hurt the most and hit the hardest were small and medium-sized production companies and independent creators who had developed a great idea, sold the farm to bring it to market — only to see it ripped off by someone with deeper pockets and fewer scruples.
It was clear to FRAPA’s founding fathers —which included David Lyle and Paul Gilbert, along with executives from some big format players of the day: Pearson Television, Granada, Distraction, Mentor, Target and Sony — that there was a need for a neutral, non-profit international industry body to help combat IP piracy and offer those on the formats front line help, guidance, registration, and mediation.
During our first 20 years, we have analyzed format theft, written reports to help guide our members in creating formats and selling them around the world — notably our widely read 2016 report, Understanding Latin America, prepared in conjunction with K7 Media — and increased awareness of what can be done to protect, and ﬁght for if necessary, the right to own and proﬁt from your creations.
In a world currently overwhelmed by a global pandemic, the need for entertainment has never been greater. While many shows cannot be produced right now, we know that it’s only a matter of time before the curse of COVID-19 will be lifted and the cameras begin to roll again on location and in studios. Because formats are at the heart of the entertainment ecosystem, FRAPA members will be leading the charge, coming up with innovative ways to entertain and inform audiences worn down by months of worry and isolation.
Looking to the future, the proliferation of global streaming services may spell the end of the halcyon days of a la carte format distribution, which beneﬁted many with multiple sales to multiple territories. Instead, looking on the brighter side, it does take us to a strange new world where a good format can roll out globally and simultaneously in different languages under the aegis of behemoth players like Netﬂix, Amazon, or Disney+. That, in turn, means protecting your format from theft will be as important as ever.
Pitching an idea to a streamer is exactly the same as pitching an idea to a broadcaster. Similarly, you don’t ever want to be in a situation where you hear a potential buyer, whether streamer or legacy player, say — after they’ve heard your pitch and mulled it over a few weeks — “Sorry, we already had a similar idea in development”. Our view is that in this new marketplace creators will continue to need FRAPA’s opinion, guidance, and expertise.
FRAPA’s “Declaration of Co-operation” out-lines for the world — not just our members — how everyone involved in the international format industry should behave. It’s available on our website — in 18 languages! Meanwhile-le, our “Code of Conduct” is an ethical set of ground rules to which all our members must adhere. In essence, it means that if you are part of FRAPA’s global community, you promise to respect the industry that feeds your family.
Happy anniversary, FRAPA. Here’s to a great future! Come join our mission.
As part of it the LA Independent Screenings, Phil Gurin has written an article profiling FRAPA on its 20th Anniversary for PRENSARIO INTERNATIONAL, the largest industry trade publication for the Latin market.