Vast, Changing TV Landscape

The advent of video on demand and Internet downloading is altering the way Israel's TV companies collaborate. But there is still no alternative to exposure on Channel 2.

Nearly a month has gone by since the last episode of "Asfor" was broadcast, but the media fuss over the show is not letting up. The show "Yerushalmit" about a group of entertaining idlers who get mixed up in crime had 50 episodes in its first season. Israelis were quick to adopt some of the show's phrases, unknown actors turned into stars overnight, and the plot gripped hundreds of thousands of addicted viewers. Cable television company HOT reportedly received 13 million video-on-demand requests.

The next obvious step, perhaps after a short cooling-off period, should have been to buy series for reruns on other major channels, as was the case with "Haborer" ("The Sorter" ) on HOT or "Srugim" on satellite company Yes. But at least for now, reruns of "Asfor" are only expected on HOT. There is no logic, say executives at Channel 2 and Channel 10, in bringing in programming if it has already been seen by millions.

"Collaborations are very common in Israel and around the world; they were born out of a need to provide funding for expensive productions," says Ayelet Metzger, deputy CEO of television at the Second Authority for Television and Radio. "Dramas are expensive productions, and there it is common practice."

The production and broadcasting of television dramas, apparently the most expensive genre, is a regulatory obligation imposed on both the niche and commercial channels. Producing a drama - known as "the elite form" - is defined in the records of the Second Authority for Television and Radio in extensive detail and focuses on the sums of money involved.

One way to meet this requirement is to collaborate. Until a few months ago, Channel 2 and Channel 10 franchisees had to account for 60 percent of the cost of a production, Metzger says. Today the terms have been loosened and "a franchisee can invest less, but ... if the Authority checks and finds that he invested very little, we will not recognize his investment at all," Metzger says.

Another important condition is broadcast arrangements. The two parties involved will air a series, but the first broadcast will always be on the niche channel (for example, HOT 3 or Yes Drama ). Only afterward will it be on the commercial channel.

None of this, at least until recently, affected collaborations. The first seasons of "The Ran Quadruplets" and "Srugim," for example, were done as a collaboration between Yes and a Channel 2 franchisee. According to the ratings committee, they achieved average ratings of 8.9 and 13.7 respectively. (Reshet joined "Srugim" at a later stage ). The second seasons were done in collaboration with Channel 10 and will be broadcast in the coming months.

Another recent collaborative effort is the comedy drama "Taxi Driver," also involving Reshet and Yes. Older examples included, "B'Tipul" ("In Treatment" ), which earned a 7.3 percent rating for Channel 2, and "Haborer," whose first season aired on Keshet and earned a rating of 10.6 percent, which is considered high for its broadcast time.

Financial woes

As a rule, it seems that the worse the financial situation of the commercial television franchisees, the more inclined they will be to work on collaborations. Examples include the severe crises afflicting Reshet and Channel 10, which are suffering low earnings and sagging ratings.

Nevertheless, according to top Israeli executives, there will hardly be any television collaborations in the future. "Today, Yes and HOT both have VOD of their own," says a senior executive at one of the Channel 2 franchisees. "Once there were collaborations because HOT, for example, would broadcast on its station, earn a few ratings points based on the nature of the platform and then Keshet or Reshet, for example, would take it and get good ratings. In the meantime, with Internet downloads and VOD, all that has changed."

Reshef Levy, the creator of "Haborer," says that "I did not sense a substantial change in the exposure of television shows. Especially when it comes to a young and hip audience, watching migrates to VOD and the Internet. I can understand why an airing on Channel 2 is an achievement for a show's creator - it's sort of the summit. But practically speaking, the contribution is not so great because most people have already seen it."

Gal Seid, in charge of drama at Channel 10, says that "the channel had so many problems that for two years it did not create any content and has no reserves. To meet the regulatory obligations, we took part in the production of 'The Ran Quadruplets' and the second season of 'Srugim.'

"Collaboration is a regulatory problem because the law obligates you to take part in a significant share of the production costs in order to receive recognition and ... broadcast it on the other channel. You don't get any of the glory from the project and it doesn't benefit you in terms of the ratings, because it has already been shown. They broadcast first and then it's on VOD. In such a situation perhaps it's just preferable to buy a finished product and not receive recognition for it."

Free for all

All of Israel's television stations are in a heated competition. The competition between cable and satellite television intensified over the past year after Yes also developed a VOD service.

"At HOT, at least in the last few years, original content is an asset. If the client knows that he can watch it later on Channel 2 or Channel 10, he has fewer reasons to remain," noted the senior executive. "Beyond that, cable and satellite work hard on public relations. The ability to again generate interest after the series reaches Channel 2 is low. It's just not worthwhile."

The desire of Yes and HOT to distinguish themselves leads to a quest for quality content. It is doubtful whether series such as "Nevelot" or "Timrot Ashan" on HOT can succeed on commercial channels.

"As far as creators are concerned, Channel 2 and broadcasts on cable and satellite are two different arenas; on HOT and Yes, the measure is not based on ratings. On commercial television, ratings are everything," says Seid. "If the series receives great reviews but does not earn high ratings, it is a complete failure. [It] is measured against 'A Star is Born' and 'Survivor,' regardless of the reviews."

Kobi Gal Raday, the head of drama at Reshet, agrees. He says that co-productions are "something that is undertaken only when a project is appropriate for the audience of HOT and Yes, as well as that of Channel 2. The content and financial commitment for every such project has to be justified."

Collaborations may perhaps be in decline, but it seems that one thing does not change. Despite the different audiences and various indexes of success, there is still no alternative to exposure on Channel 2. Laizy Shapira, one of the writers of "Srugim," says that "when the series was on Yes, many religious people miraculously happened to see it. Everyone talked about it, downloaded it from the Internet and forwarded it to one another.

"For months, there were pictures from the series in the religious media and discussions on the weekly Torah-portion commentaries distributed in synagogues. After the series aired on Channel 2, suddenly there was another huge wave of interest. What I felt as a religious person when the series aired on Yes, the secular actors and crew felt when it aired on Channel 2."

When asked whether the broadcast on Channel 2 made his work on other projects easier, he answers, "without a doubt there was greater exposure. When we started on the second season, it was perhaps a little easier; people were more inclined to help, even regarding locations and patience during shooting. It was slightly easier."