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SMST216-06B Television Week 36 (September 6) Making television: programmes and formats Television programme (1) [Note: ‘program’ is the American spelling]

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smst216 06b television

SMST216-06B Television

Week 36 (September 6)

Making television: programmes and formats

television programme 1
Television programme (1)

[Note: ‘program’ is the American spelling]

A television programme is the content of television broadcasting, [or] the content of an individual broadcast. [It] may be a one-off broadcast or, more usually, part of a periodically television series. A TV series that is intended to air an finite number of episodes is called a miniseries.

television programme 2
Television programme (2)

Americans call a short run lasting less than a year a season [eg the third season of The Sopranos]; Europeans call this a series. This season or series usually consists of 10-24 installments of the series. A single instance of a programme is called an episode ..[also] sometimes called a show. A one-offbroadcast may be called a special. The very first episode of a new series is called a pilot.

(“Television program”, Wikipedia)

television format
Television format

A term used in various ways to refer to the particular genre and organisation of a television programme .. The term is similar to ‘genre’ but is more closely linked to production [ eg “my production company is making a sitcom format series, set in a hospital ’]

More recently (and more extensively), ‘format’ has come to mean: the development and production of a programme, and its subsequent sale to other production companies--not as a completed programme, but as the programme idea (eg Pop Idol) and the licensing rights


Television institutions use a specialised language to describe their processes. A number of terms have several possible meanings eg ‘ratings’

* used to indicate parental advisory messages or guidance about programme content ie ‘G’ or ‘AO’

* the outcomes of systematic and continuous audience measurement

making television programmes the american approach 1
Making television programmes: the American approach (1)

Perhaps the highest stakes ‘game’ in the world is television programming. According to how well the players do in this game, hundreds of millions of dollars are won and lost each year. (

As a result of an unpredictable relationship between production and consumption, producing television is a hazardous business prone to failure. (Casey et al, 2002)

In the USA, there are four important groupings involved in the commissioning or production of television programmes:

  • Network television, funded by advertising revenue (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, WB, UPN)
  • Cable television, funded by subscription eg HBO
  • Cable networks funded by subscription and advertising eg FX
  • Public service broadcasting network (PBS) of 300+ stations, funded through a combination of federal funding, and sponsorship
making television 2
Making television … (2)

New series usually have a run of 13 episodes, but continuing series typically last for 22 episodes. [British series often have fewer episodes eg Fawlty Towers=12 eps] ‘One hour’ drama series usually run for 44 minutes (60 minutes with ad breaks) and ‘30 minute’ programmes (eg sitcoms) usually run for 22 minutes. Series are commissioned by a TV channel, if its pilot is deemed to have commercial potential

making television the process 1
Making television …the process (1)

1.A producer or creator (eg Jerry Bruckheimer; David Chase) comes up with an idea for a new television series (eg a new crime/forensic science drama; a new reality TV show). This usually includes the concept (the programme idea), characters, crew, and actors.

2. A team then pitches it to various TV networks, hoping to generate interest. A network agrees to order a pilot. [cf Seinfeld]

making television the process 2
Making television … the process (2)

3. If the TV network likes the pilot, they will pick up the series for their next season (eg the fall season). Many new series never make it past the pilot stage in the USA.

4. Once a new series has been accepted by a network (or ‘green-lit’), a run of episodes is ordered.

5. The series producers hires a stable of writers, who write in turn, or as a team.

making television the process 3
Making television … the process (3)
  • Once a series run is completed, it is turned over to the network, which sends it out to its affiliates (affiliated channels), who schedule in a common, specified timeslot.
  • If the ratings are good, the show continues; if the show fails to attract an audience within 3-4 episodes, it may well be cancelled.
making television the process 4
Making television…the process (4)

8. If a show is cancelled, the producers shop around with the remaining episodes to other networks, who may agree to commission further episodes.

9. On occasion, the show’s producers may call a halt to successful series (eg Friends), ending with a series finale. ‘Spin-offs’ are also possible.

10. If a series reaches 100 or more episodes and continue to be popular, the broadcast rights are resold and it goes into syndication (eg Star Trek, M*A*S*H)

making television the process 5
Making television … the process (5)

Deals for first-run American TV series are made by NZ programme buyers at annual international markets, such as MIP-COM. Buyers from TVNZ and TV3 view pilots for new season’s programmes, and make purchase commitments (often as ‘packages’). Prior to the arrival of TV3, programme prices were set at general levels, reflecting the potential audience size in NZ but, more recently. Rival bidding has increased prices.

On average, one hour of US drama costs around $NZ8000 to buy--compared with an average $NZ500,00 to make one hour of NZ television drama

making television in nz 1
Making television in NZ (1)

In-house programming: (TVNZ, TV3 & TV4, MTS, Prime, Sky). Contributes the largest proportion of NZ-made programming, primarily as news & current affairs (eg Sunday, Fair Go), sport and some special interest programmes (eg CountryCalendar) . MTS produces a greater range of genres of any channel. Continuous production on dedicated sets, with stable production teams.

In 2003, more than half the programmes on TV ONE and a quarter of those on TV2 were New Zealand made (TVNZ Annual Report 2004)

making television in nz 2
Making television in NZ (2)

Commissioned programmes: series ( eg drama, reality TV) or one-off programmes (documentaries) producted on behalf of channels, who purchase broadcasting and residual rights. In wake of increased ‘out-sourcing’ (especially by TVNZ), a number of significant independent production houses have emerged in NZ eg South Pacific Pictures (Shortland Street, NZ Idol, Outrageous Fortune), Gibson Group (Front Seat, Insiders Guide to Happiness/Love), Greenstone Pictures and Topshelf (Inside NZ docos), Screentime (Police Ten 7, Air Force)

making television in nz 3
Making television in NZ (3)

Some New Zealand production houses are engaged in making programming for both local broadcasters and the international market eg

* Natural History NZ, Dunedin (Formerly owned by TVNZ, now owned by Twentieth Century Fox). Programming for Discovery/Animal Planet

* Taylormade, Dunedin. Squirt + international animation projects

* Touchdown Productions, Auckland. (Mitre 10 Changing Rooms + international formats)

making television in nz 4
Making television in NZ (4)

New Zealand On Air funded programming: funds series and documentaries, according to the following criteria:

* programmes that are of interest to a mainstream audience but are too risky and/or expensive for the market to fund.

* programmes that are focused on minority interests and consequently, are not commercially viable (

making television in nz 5
Making television in NZ (5)

NZOA funds local television production from an annual budget of $90 million, 65% of which goes to television programming, produced by NZ production companies. NZOA partly or fully funds approximately 20% of all locally-made television. Funding is competitive.

Producers need to have a commitment from broadcasters for a slot in the schedule, before NZOA funding is approved. NZOA often retain an equity share in such programming.

making television in nz 6
Making television in NZ (6)

Te Mangai Paho funds Maori-language programming, for FTA channels and the Maori Television Service. MTS also produces in-house programming + commissioned programming (eg Kura Productions, XS TV Productions). Up to 90% of MTS programming in New Zealand-made.

making television in nz 7
Making television in NZ (7)

Advertising (TVCs) is created by New Zealand production companies (eg Curious Ltd, Fisheye Films. Flying Fish, Yukfoo Animation), on behalf of NZ advertising agencies, or NZ branches of international advertising agencies (eg Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB New Zealand, McCann Erikson), for clients.

$643 spent on television advertising in 2004 (buying time-slots). Many TVCs are now made in Australia, for a trans-Tasman market

Note: many NZ film-makers and television-makers work on TVCs, in-between projects

television formats 1
Television Formats (1)

Increasingly, the international trade in television programming is shifting away from the export of ready-made programmes, to formats ie licensed programme ideas. There are now very large production companies (eg Endemol. The Netherlands--Big Brother; Touchdown, NZ--The Chair) , as well as established broadcasters (eg BBC Worldwide--Dancing Withthe Stars), involved in this trade

From The Global Trade in Television Formats (Screen Digest + Format Recognition and Protection Association, April 2005)
  • The global format trade was worth 2.4bn euros in 2004
  • The number of format hours broadcast has increased by 22% since 2002
  • The USA is the single most important format market in terms of production value, followed by Germany and France
  • The UK is the biggest exporter of formats; 32% of all format hours broadcast originate in the UK
  • Endemol dominates the format business. It is the largest originator, distributor and production of formats in the world
  • Game shows represent 50% of global formats
  • Reality is the single most important genre in terms of production value