Can Israeli TV Shows Go the Way of High Tech?

A burgeoning branch of Israeli television, devoted exclusively to foreign export, is taking off.

Very soon, seven or eight American couples will find themselves in small apartments divided into tiny units, with their daily lives documented round the clock on the Internet and via cell phone. They will be given revealing tasks to carry out, and each couple will have to survive a daily popularity contest. Twice a day, edited broadcasts will be aired; once a week, a segment will be devoted to the ousting of a couple.

This is set to happen next fall on the young American network CW (which broadcasts, among other things, "America's Next Top Model," and the new version of "Beverly Hills 90210" ). If all goes as planned, this will mark the first time that a large nationwide American network - CW is fifth in the ratings - will broadcast a format designed in Israel which was not first shown in Israel.

In Frame, Israeli television

The story of "The Frame" is that of a rapidly developing branch of Israeli television, devoted to foreign export alone. For two years, the show has been marketed around the world, and has already been produced and broadcast (without much success ) in Spain. Despite its lack of success to date, it is considered a hot format.

"The idea is that couples in different parts of the company take part in a reality show, without leaving their homes," explains Lisa Shiloach-Uzrad, head of TV formats at July-August Productions company which is making the show. The company bought the idea from Lior Meiri, who creates content for interactive Internet sites, says Shiloach-Uzrad.

Viewers will be able to watch the couples 24 hours a day via cell phone and Internet technologies. Couples compete to generate the viewers' interest, with viewers choosing which couples to watch. The number of accumulated viewer minutes will be shown on a rating board, and will serve as the basis for the success of some contestants and the ouster of others. "The key sentence is 'if you are out of the frame, you're out of the game,'" says Shiloach-Uzrad. At this stage, a bit of background is in order. In 2007, the Writers Guild of America went on strike to protest shrinking wages. Many believe that the strike was responsible for the spurt of format industries in other countries and, specifically, for the trend of Israeli companies selling formats to American studios. During the strike, American studios and production companies appealed to producers around the world for formats, leading to the birth of "In Treatment" and "The Mythological Ex" - two successful local programs picked up by American networks.

The story of "The Frame" is different. "Instead of engaging a long, expensive process of local marketing and production, which can take two years, we decided to produce a trailer for the international market," says Shiloach-Uzrad. After the format was rejected by the Dutch television giant Endemol (owner of rights for"Big Brother" ), Shiloach-Uzrad turned to the Israeli distributor Avi Armoza, whose Armoza Formats has during the past five become one of the top 10 firms in the world in this sphere. "The Frame" was presented at the MIPCOM international television fair in Cannes in 2009. Several countries purchased options to produce the show.

It's clear to me why this format was sold around the world," says Armoza. "This is a formula which cuts across technological platforms. It's pretty innovative. Viewers make their presence felt on all the platforms, as each of them influences what will happen later on television. CW is a network that markets to a young audience, and they are always searching for new markets."

Is it not vital that the format be broadcast first at home, in Israel? "When you have a good idea, it's important that it be broadcast first in Israel, but many times, for reasons that don't have anything to do with the quality of the format, it's hard to do that," says Armoza."It could be that the broadcast schedule in Israel is packed, or that there's something in the same genre that's already being broadcast. After all, the market in Israel is limited. Over the past few years we've learned that if you come to a production company with a well polished product... you can succeed in the world. With "The Frame" we invested in advertising, and in working with international partners, and that caught the attention of important players in the world television industry."

Eyeing Armoza's success, other important Israeli format producers are also looking abroad. Meter Productions recently formed an international division. "You can go places with this," says Armoza. "'Big Brother' did in Holland what ICQ did for high tech in Israel. If there is money to support [local] television, a huge industry can develop here. Israeli television is stronger and more expansive than what the local market in the country can absorb," he says, noting that executives of leading world production companies are today willing to listen to Israeli proposals.

"Today, after the development and sale of two formats that are very different in content and nature, we believe that the potential for the creation of original television content for the international market is huge, and that we have good products to propose," says Lisa Shiloach-Uzrad.

The economic incentive, she adds, is huge. "As the owner of a production company, I know that profits from the local market are not high. Production processes continue for a long time, and often the producer is required to handle intermediate financing," says Shiloach-Uzrad. "With format marketing, the moment you successfully complete the development process, the format can sell simultaneously in several countries. If you are lucky, there's a possibility that the format will be produced for several seasons, and generate revenue for years."