Phil Gurin on FRAPA’s 20th anniversary, future for formats

Founded in 2000, the Format Recognition and Protection Association (FRAPA) has built an international membership of format producers and creators over the past two decades, who turn to the organization for guidance and best practices in navigating the ever-evolving formats landscape. With a board comprised of some of the industry’s top names, FRAPA bills itself as the “conscience of the formats industry,” offering tools designed to foster the protection of intellectual property and, by extension, the formats business itself.

Realscreen talked to FRAPA co-chairman and founder/CEO of The Gurin Company, Phil Gurin, about his involvement with the organization and its impact on the formats business to date.

You first became involved with FRAPA in 2010, when you joined the board. What were your thoughts on the organization before joining, and why did you feel it was important to join?

Since the late ’90s, I had been talking about formats before I even realized what I was talking about. The idea of licensing formats, creating formats, distributing formats, and protecting formats was for me something I slowly, but seriously, realized was an important part of the food chain of entertainment television. I started finding shows from around the world to bring to the U.S., creating shows for export, partnering with companies from around the world, and I was launching my own formats domestically and – importantly – internationally. Suddenly I was up to my eyeballs in the business and passionately wanted to become a voice and advocate for good industry practices.

My friend, the legendary Paul Gilbert, had co-founded FRAPA with David Lyle and Michael Rodrigue, and he drafted me onto the board to succeed his tenure. I was also happily drafted to write our members Code of Conduct, became co-chairman in 2015 (along with Jan Salling of Missing Link/BBC Studios Nordics), and have worked hard with a passionate board of directors to help build our services, clarify our mission and spread the word.

What are some of the more significant achievements for FRAPA over these first two decades, and especially lately, as the formats industry has reached an even higher level of maturity?

Early on, FRAPA was formed to help educate people as to what a “format” is. For many countries, the idea of protecting intellectual property is not widely accepted. Courts need to be educated on what elements constitute a format, and how formats can – and should – be protected and monetized. FRAPA was involved in several high-profile mediations in its early years, which we still offer to members who are so inclined to use us, and now we also provide a Format Analysis Service where, through our proprietary method, we can compare two produced shows and numerically score them as to similarities and differences. Companies can use our expert report in their own legal proceedings as a bona fide expert testimony.

We offer a format registration service that can establish the date and contents of when you wrote up your idea – though of course, we can’t guarantee if someone registered something similar before you did. Also, we are incredibly proud of our Declaration of Cooperation, which is available to anyone, non-members included, in 15 languages. We try to be the “conscience of the format industry,” and so our Declaration of Cooperation is a great place to start and to share.

What are the key challenges facing the formats business now, from producers to creators to distributors, and how can FRAPA help these sectors meet those challenges?

Bordering on a crisis, we see more creators being ripped off. Big companies or small, anywhere in the world, theft of intellectual property is a rampant problem affecting all businesses, including and perhaps especially the entertainment business. Without an appreciation of the entire chain of creation and its impact on people and their families, bad actors just rip off, borrow, appropriate or feel “inspired by” ideas and set out to see how far they can get away with IP theft.

We continue to rely on good business practices that come from within people, but we are not naïve. It’s a tough-ass world out there – we need governments and regulations from legal authorities to get behind protecting intellectual property as a necessary economic underpinning of free trade and a global economy. Creating intellectual property and making money from your creation should simply be a right, not a privilege controlled by larger companies.

How has the pandemic impacted the organization, and — from your communication with them over the course of the past year — its members?

The good news, if there is good news during this horrible pandemic, is that companies are spending a great deal of time creating ideas that can be sold and produced. Buyers are far more available than ever – they are just as stuck in front of their screens as the rest of us. With so many outlets to choose from, with so many companies competing for your eyeballs, the race to find a great idea and the pressure to put that into development has never been greater. This is good for the industry. The trick will be seeing which ideas don’t just live in development purgatory but actually get to heaven and get made.

Many are saying formats stand to benefit in the months ahead as global audiences call for feel-good, family friendly programming, and broadcasters need alternatives to uncertain and costly drama/scripted production. What’s your outlook for the formats industry in 2021? How will economic pressures impact it from a production standpoint — negatively or positively, or both?

Formats are increasingly the dominant language of the global entertainment business. A good format can be localized, and it is increasingly clear that many countries would rather have their own people on screen rather than just seeing a dubbed or subtitled American original. I’m talking reality, unscripted, entertainment. Of course, there will always be an opportunity for distributors to take high-quality U.S. finished tape and sell it to a wider audience. But taking a domestic original idea and seeing it travel to several dozen countries and actually get made in those countries is truly a marvel of our times and satisfying creatively and financially for our industry.

FRAPA is here to help educate and protect that creative food chain. And once we can all get fully back to work the firehose of ideas will be amazing to witness.

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