What is the next killer entertainment programme? What is the next global entertainment format? What is the next big thing?
These were the questions posed by Alex Connock at the Broadcasting Press Guild in London last week. Alex suggested that the prize for the person who invents the next big thing would equate to tens of millions of revenue.
So what is the next big thing?
My initial thoughts took me back to 1990 (I was around 12 years old) and memories of a popular British game show The Generation Game. Hosted by Bruce Forsyth the programme matched two members of a family against two members from another family. The games were probably ridiculous from what I remember, but at the time I loved the madness of it all, and probably hoped that I would one day participate.
Today it is the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, their format of phone-ins, public voting and tales of human woe and elation are very distant from television entertainment that came before it, but in some ways they are just the same. For one, Bruce Forsyth is at still at the helm, and more significantly, despite the innovations and format change, these shows are entertaining. Whether we love them or loath them, they are just good family fun and even in this age of Internet, they show no signs of recession. If anything the web is making them stronger as the online chatter perpetuates more interest, more event, and more reasons to watch.
But how did we get to where we are today and what came about to make it all happen?
Let’s take a brief walk through the history of television entertainment.
During the 1940′s and 1960′s television brought about Candid Camera – a concealed camera filming ordinary people being confronted with unusual situations. This format sparked a number of prank shows over many decades including Beadles About and Trigger Happy TV. And then there was Top of the Pops – a national favourite for almost six decades. At its height, Top of the Pops attracted over 15 million viewers each week. Parents would scoff at the new music and young folk would aspire to the look like the latest star.
The 1970′s to 1990′s offered such programmes as Blind Date, Gladiators, and of course The Generation Game. Blind Date was a popular dating game show hosted by the nation’s favourite scouse songstress Cilla Black, and at its height the show attracted up to 18.2 million viewers.
2000 to 2010 was the age of technology bringing forth Big Brother and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. Big Brother arguably ushered in the dawn of reality television and overnight celebrity, and Who wants to be a millionaire? is the most internationally popular television franchise of all time, having aired in more than 100 countries worldwide.
And then there is The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.
But what qualities do these entertainment programmes all share?
1. Family oriented: All of these programmes bring families together. It is Saturday night, the working week is over, the after school clubs are done, the shopping has been brought home, dinner has been tidied away and it is now time for the X-Factor. It is a scene repeated over millions of households up and down the land. Yesterday’s family had The Generation Game, today’s family has the X-Factor, and no doubt it will be replaced by something else tomorrow, but the one consistent element will be family – children, parents, grandparents and pets, all watching and talking about the same show.
2. Social change: Each programme, in its own way, has mirrored social change or brought about social change from the confines of our living room. How many young teenagers would copy the look of their favourite artist on Top of the Pop’s, whether it be the dance moves of Pan’s People or the tartan-trimmed outfits of the Bay City Rollers? Big Brother also pushed boundaries and created a nation more open to self-analysis and introspection.
3. New Technology: Candid Camera – small camera’s that can be concealed in anything from a lamppost to a pair of spectacles. Who wants to be a millionaire? – audience interaction with electronic keypads, and X-Factor and Strictly have also benefited from lucrative phone voting technologies.
4. Format Innovation: Alongside new technology, the programme makers have all brought about a distinctive format innovation. Blind Date was brilliant in its design – three contestants competing for the heart of one. Gladiator – competitors vying for a place in the final round or the eliminator. Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – a radio based competition reengineered for television, and the X-Factor – wherein the earlier episodes are almost more entertaining than the finale. Such innovations are risky and in each instance unproven before their first airing.
5. Charismatic presenters: Cilla Black, Bruce Forsyth, Jeremy Beadle, Simon Cowell and Chris Tarrant. Outside of the show, each presenter commands an audience in their own right.
6. Catch phrase: Each programme will be remembered for a catch phrase – “Final answer?”, “How did they get on?”, “Nice to see you, to see you nice”, “Gladiators Ready” and so on so forth.
7. People: From the very earliest example in our collection ‘the man on the street‘ plays a central role, and increasingly so over the years. Intended or not, these programmes bring about celebrity in the ordinary man. They also increasingly rely on audience participation as part of the entertainment experience.
8. Tabloid Headlines: Many of our examples have an intertwined relationship with the popular press. The shows create headlines that sell newspapers, and the headlines can often influences the shows. Whether it be the stories of winners or losers. Scandal or gossip. It is all part of the entertainment experience.
9. Business: We can not forget that entertainment is business, and increasingly big business. Shows such as X-Factor no long rely solely on advertising revenue (although this may well be limited to the broadcaster), but on lucrative phone voting, record sales and spin-off merchandise.
10. Entertaining: This is the magic. Each of our examples is entertaining. At one point in all our histories we have enjoyed one of these productions. We have been drawn in, certainly smiled, and probably laughed. When all is said and done, they are simply good fun.
So, there we have it. The next big thing will likely be brought about from new technologies, format innovations and new business models. At their heart will be charismatic presenters, the man on the street, catch phrases and tabloid headlines. Our families will watch it and perhaps be changed by it. In the end it will almost certainly be entertaining.
Article posted at Free Trade – the free trade of ideas.