Israel Schools America in the Art of Television

The ‘green-lighting’ of programs such as HBO drama In Treatment and Showtime’s Homeland signals Israel’s growing influence on American entertainment and pop culture.

The past several years been rather kind to the Israeli television industry, thanks to both Israeli ingenuity, as well as a stumbling world economy. The 2007 economic recession, coupled with the subsequent Writers Guild of America strike, which lasted 14 weeks, essentially froze the industry and cost the major Hollywood studios billions in revenues, Israeli television was able to make waves across the pond.

The ‘green-lighting’ of programs such as HBO drama In Treatment (“BeTipul”), or Showtime’s highly-anticipated thriller Homeland (“Hatufim”), which are almost entirely derived from the Hebrew originals, signal a consumer-based need for a new brand of ingenuity, as well as Israel’s growing influence on American entertainment and pop culture.

HBO's In Treatment AP

“There is no doubt that Israel is hot right now,” says Keren Shahar, CEO of Keshet Format, which acts as the international sales arm of Keshet Broadcasting Ltd., Israel’s leading commercial channel. “It’s definitely possible to say that Israel is ‘on the map’, especially considering how often American pilots get ‘green lighted’. The next step is for our shows to make it to a second or third season, as occurred with In Treatment.”

However, not everything is so positive. According to Avi Armoza, CEO of Armoza Formats, plenty of shows are bought, but end up on the development room floor. According to Armoza, “sometimes it can take a whole year until [the show] makes it to the screen.”

“It’s like a long-distance run - we try to work with clients that we know how long such a process might take,” adds Armoza.

And despite the veneration surrounding Israel’s entertainment industry, there is much competition. England is still the largest exporter of new formats, and countries such as Spain, South Korea, and Turkey are still the dominant competitors, especially when all the aforementioned countries are vying for a spot in the land where international cultural exports either make it or break it: America.

“If it sells there, it sells everywhere”, says Nadav Palti, CEO of Dori Media Group. “After BeTipul was sold to HBO, we were able to distribute it all over Europe, Canada, and Latin America. A total of 38 countries were excited by a series that was screened in the United States.”

Breaking through to the international market has also had deep implications for the Israel entertainment industry back at home. “The Israeli market has reached a boiling point”, says Armoza, “All of a sudden, after years of a young and rather small industry, we have undergone a process of professionalization which has allowed us to develop modern television which holds up to American and European standards.”

The combination of desire to succeed with creative ability, along with the fact that Israelis know how to work diligently, well and for little money, provides the Israeli entertainment industry winning combination. For Armoza, the format must be “cool enough”, and stand the test of a cost-benefit analysis. And despite the hardships that come with a burgeoning industry attempting to export new formats abroad, Armoza remains optimistic.

“We are at an advantage. We are not coming from an industry with lots of resources, which forces us to find creative budgetary solutions, and ultimately plays in our favor.”