Content trends in troubled times

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To find out more about future trends, we spoke to the head of Global Research & Insight at Fremantle, Paul Wood. With over 10 years experience in his field at Fremantle, here is his take on content trends in troubled times.


The age-old questions in a content business are – “what’s going to be the next big thing?”, “can you tell me the latest trends?”, “what does the future hold for entertainment?”

I hear these all the time. And I don’t blame anyone for asking, of course we want to be ahead of the curve and tapped into the trends.

Spoiler- it’s about supply and demand.

Learn about your audience

Audiences are at the heart of our business; their viewing habits inform how our buyers buy our programmes and how us makers make our programmes. But we are in an age where the audience data is often held by companies and not shared or audited. This means there’s a crucial gap in the numbers.

As important as numbers are, we undertake our own research to find out how our audiences are feeling. With sentiment we can get a great understanding of the current landscape and moods and use this to tap into these trends.

We are living in extremely challenging times, and the last few years have been difficult for so many. A recent study we did in 12 countries using our inhouse primary research agency iCount, highlighted just how people are feeling. What we found is that current global events are taking their toll emotionally, with people anxious and worried about the future. Audiences are in a different place to a year ago, they are increasingly stressed as financial situations worsen. This was meant to be back to ‘normal’ after the horror years of the pandemic yet people are anxious about the future with 9 in 10 worried about the cost of living.

Knowing how people are feeling sets us apart and gives us a great insight into ensuring we are creating shows that deliver on what the audience wants. In times of trouble, people are drawn to shows they can guarantee will entertain them and have the added advantage of a hint of nostalgia.

It’s all about the shows we love

To give that boost of nostalgia, reinventing a show from the past takes a lot of creative skill. Keeping the essence of the original show but adapting and updating it for the audiences of today. This reboot trend is true across all the main entertainment sub-genres, but in particular for quiz and gameshows.

From within the vast Fremantle catalogue, we saw The Price is Right come back in Germany on RTL and Password in the USA on NBC. Password was last on air 15 years ago, and was the summer breakout hit for NBC, only behind America’s Got Talent. Across the industry, other gameshows to come back this year include Don’t forget the Lyrics on FOX in the USA along with Nove in Italy – both off air for more than 10 years. Gameshows not only benefit from having the audience recall the show, but also, they are a cost-effective play for many broadcasters who are looking for content they know will work, and offer fun and light relief in these difficult times.

 Reality programmes are also seeing a reboot. Big Brother is coming to ITV in the UK and was revived in its birth country The Netherlands last year too. In dating there’s the reboot of Beauty and the Geek on Discovery+ in the UK, plus The Farmer Wants a Wife is back in the USA after 15 years, this time it will air on FOX, after previously airing last in 2008 on the CW. The Farmer Wants a Wife is such a classic format, dominating many European broadcasters for many years.

Then there’s the talent shows. Australian Idol is back on Network 7 next year, plus Got Talent is back in Indonesia for the first time in 8 years. The Mole from Eureka recently launched on Netflix (it last aired in the US on ABC in 2008) and the revival of this show, alongside the continued strong performance in the Netherlands and Belgium, prove that great formats remain that.

It is totally understandable that buyers are looking into back catalogues and picking something with history and credibility for their network – this reboot trend will continue for several years.

To bring across the audiences of long-running popular shows, we are also seeing changes to an existing format. An example of this would be Fastest Finger in the UK, which is a spin-off from Who Wants To be A Millionaire, taking just the initial part of that show and spinning out into a full game show. At Fremantle we have done this remarkably successfully with The Farmer Wants a Wife format, where there have been numerous spin-off shows, from Rewind (L’amour vu du pré) in France which sees farmers from previous seasons open up their living rooms to comment on the series currently on air; to La famille est dans le pré in Canada which follows the new lives of the couples who found love on the original series and then there’s Love For All (Bonde söker fru – Kärlek åt alla) airing on TV4 Play in Sweden which focuses on the four farmers who did not make it to the linear show.

Knowing how people are feeling sets us apart and gives us a great insight into ensuring we are creating shows that deliver on what the audience wants.

A broadcaster’s perspective

Traditional broadcasters and streaming platforms are also feeling anxious and the pinch of the economic situation. There’s a huge amount of caution around now and the big risks are not being taken – so the tried and tested method is the way to go. With the reboots – it’s not that TV has run out of ideas – it’s that audiences can recall the show, it’s easier to market, and so people will be drawn to the show in an increasingly complex and fragmented marketplace.

But the real trend for the cautiousness within the industry, is that shows are staying on air for a very long time now. Credit must be given the producers of these shows, who constantly refresh and reinvent the shows to ensure the audience stays with them. But this does mean there are fewer slots available for new IP, and often as mentioned above, these available slots get filled with a reboot.

Celebrate longevity

If you look across the world, lots of the most popular shows are very similar to 15-20 years ago but they still deliver excellent audiences. Take American Idol, on air for 20 years, but with all ways to view, the most recent season this year delivered audiences of around 10 million. The Farm has been consistently delivering in key markets for 20 years now, including on TV4 in Sweden and TV2 in Norway, and it was rebooted in Spain this year after 10 years on Telecinco.

In scripted, things are a little more complicated, and often a lot more expensive! There are many reasons for this, but the streamers’ appetite for scripted has driven productions up significantly over the last few years. Here too, as in entertainment, we are seeing long running shows stay on air – the daily dramas that dominate prime time in Germany with Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten on RTL the leader of these. In the UK, early prime time continues to be a daily drama haven, with Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale still delivering huge, loyal audiences for their broadcasters.

According to the WIT, of all the drama series launches in the last 12 months, over a quarter were based on existing IP – with a current trend towards video game adaptations. So, not quite the same as entertainment, but it is about using the existing audience, and knowledge of the IP to create something new that has similarities to the original. Again, it can be creatively difficult to execute – but get it right and there are huge rewards. A great example of this is Heartbreak High, which was an Australian mega hit in the 90s when it aired on Network TEN and other countries across the world. Recently updated, the 2022 version produced by our team in Australia landed on Netflix in September and hit the top 10 lists in more than 40 markets.

Reinventing a show from the past takes a lot of creative skill. Keeping the essence of the original show but adapting and updating it for the audiences of today.

Embracing foreign creativity

But the big trend is around non-English language drama. This really is the thing that continues to grow, and by this I really mean into the USA. Yes, we can all easily point to Squid Game and Money Heist as game changers here, but more and more viewers in English-speaking markets are comfortable with subbing and dubbing of content. This is mainly driven by young adults, and their desire for something different. Non-English language opens the world up to different storytelling, from different perspectives and audiences are increasingly coming to this.

For Fremantle in this space, we have launched The Lørenskog Disappearance from Monster in Norway, which ranked in the Top 10 TV Shows on Netflix in 43 countries in its first two weeks and The Investigation from Miso Film which was a smash on BBC2, averaging just shy of 1.5m viewers across the season. There are numerous other examples of this, and with Netflix now producing significant amounts of non-English language dramas, and being the cool brand for young viewers, this trend is being embedded from an early age with this audience.

So, back to where we started. Supply and demand. If creatives can supply entertaining and escapist content that brings a warm, fuzzy feeling and offers an opportunity to step away from the harsh realities of life, then the audiences will come.

Paul Wood

Paul Wood

Head of Global Research and Insight, Fremantle

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