No such thing as a global format: why local is the future of TV

There are more and more locally produced TV shows, new TV platforms have emerged, viewing habits have changed. What can advertisers learn from TV about speaking to global audiences on an intimate, local level?

L-r James, Kremser, Mortensen, Coruble
l-r James, Kremser, Mortensen, Coruble

"We take pride in our local culture. Whether it’s brands or TV, people feel loyalty locally."

Top thinkers in TV and media converged on Campaign and RTLAdConnect’s "TV Talks" on a blue-skied day in Borough. Campaign’s global head of media, Gideon Spanier, was introducing the debate: ‘Global v local – what is the future of TV?’

Although people have always cared about it, he explained, people are swinging more and more towards local.

TV viewing habits have shifted in the last decade. Even though live TV still dominates daily viewing globally, Europeans are now watching more locally produced shows rather than the American TV productions that once ruled.

"Europe is not just a monolith. You don’t have a ‘United States of Europe’," said Spanier.  "Although streaming has allowed US shows to travel, local versions of global shows have become more important – more investment is going into local programming."

And, to illustrate this point, most of the series UK viewers watch are produced by ITV, the BBC or Channel 4. Now the BBC and ITV’s Britbox houses much of it.

Video games
Stephane Coruble, CEO at RTLAdConnect, said: "You see lots of discrepancies in terms of media consumption across the world." He said that the average Total Video Day (daily viewing time for live TV, tablet, mobile and online video) varies hugely – even within different countries in the same continent.

For example, while the average Total Video Day (TVD) in Europe is 3h 51mins, Poland watches 4h 19mins but the Netherlands watches just under three hours. The average TVD in Asia is 2h 25mins but Japan watches nearly five hours on average.

"Perception is not the reality," said Coruble, and he said that advertisers and TV producers must be aware of behaviours on a very local level.

"There is no such thing as a global format," said Dug James, SVP development production at FremantleMedia. "If you set out to create something that conquers the world you’re likely to spend lots and be disappointed."

He explained that a strong local format is the starting point: Farmer Wants a Wife began life as a UK documentary about lonely farmers looking for partners but it unexpectedly became a reality TV hit on a global scale.  

On the other hand, ITV’s Love Island has enjoyed massive success in the UK and expanded into eight territories, but has not exploded globally as you might expect.

"You’d imagine it would be incredibly easy to copy and paste this format around the world," said Neil Mortensen, director of audiences at ITV. But, he revealed, the format isn’t to everyone’s tastes, and there are few countries which have a channel like ITV2  to house the Love Island brand.

Campaign's Gideon Spanier grills the panel

Same flavours, different tastes
James cited four key traits for success: transferability, repeatability, promotability and scalability. In addition, he said, it’s important to accept changes to a particular format because different countries have very different tastes. In the UK, for example, we love panel and quiz shows, but they don’t travel particularly well.

"There is a tension between your beautifully created format and how much control you have over it," said Mortensen.

Ask how much change is needed and whether the resulting product will remain true to the core brand proposition. Nuance is important – a show such as Hell’s Kitchen might have a totally inappropriate tone in some territories. But if you tone it down, does it fundamentally change?

"It’s not a fight between local and global," Mortensen added. "The global players desperately need local content. It’s a balance."

Can you dub all the people all the time?
Jorma Kremser, global media manager at Bose, explained how a global advertiser achieves this balance: "In each and every market we need to know how the brand message resonates with the local audience. We have to understand the audience to be understood."

He added that it’s not always possible to have a one-size-fits-all approach. To reach German and French audiences, for example, dubbing American adverts has worked well.

Coruble pointed out that there are also differences in the way people in different markets watch online videos – in terms of genre: "You might think YouTube is a global platform where viewers watch the same type of content," he said. But he revealed that  in Germany the biggest genre is travel, in France it’s food and cooking, the US enjoys DIY tutorials.

"Content has changed dramatically," said Kremser. "Platforms have also shifted. There are more platforms to distribute your content, so go with a transmedia approach."

But, despite all this, Kremser does believe that one detail will remain true: the future of TV is still in the living room.

Eleanor Kahn