The ingredients for a successful TV Format

The key to a successful Television format cannot be defined in one short article and for many producers a truly successful global TV format is something that still eludes them. When we look at international TV Show Formats that have been re-produced and distributed on scale in many countries and territories across the world we think of big productions like Big Brother, The X factor and Dancing with the stars. Whilst these heavy hitters are the first shows that spring to mind when we talk formats there are hundreds more very successful smaller formats that have conquered the world and the TV formats industry generates billions each year globally through the work of format sales and distribution agents.

With a movement to the digital world and with online content now rivalling traditional TV stations formats have adjusted along with viewing habits. What was traditionally an industry belonging to the world of linear TV, format based concepts now exist and thrive online also though streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube but also within social media platforms and other digital platforms.

So what actually makes for a format that is truly successful on a global scale. We can see that International formats straddle many genres including talent shows, quizzes, cooking programmes and even history and art programmes. What is always at the heart of these formats is great entertainment and in order to produce this entertainment a number of factors must be present.

A format that creates the circumstance to reveal great characters

A format must be structured in such a way as to allow fantastic characters appear and thrive. This can be consistent presenting talent, judges and experts but also one time contributors who can really make a show come alive and keep the content fresh, dynamic and engaging.

A format that generates regular Must-See moments

We all remember the first time we saw Susan Boyle sing on Britains Got Talent. Culturally defining moments such as this is a great example of a must see moment within a format that defines the programme and cements it’s place in popular consciousness.  These moments can become iconic and act as key points of reference when selling formats abroad.

Subject matter that speaks to audiences anywhere

Programmes with a universal subject matter at their heart often make for significant format sales appeal as they are  easily transferable to different regions and cultures. This explains why talent shows are so successful as they can be easily adapted and reimagined in new territories with minimal work and adjustment.


Often the success of a television format comers out of the blue and sheer luck plays a huge role in a TV show becoming the next big thing. It can be hard to keep up with cultural trends, new technologies and fashions and often it is down to pure fortune as to whether an idea its landing at just the right time to become a hit.

The TV format industry is an unpredictable and exciting place to work. Forecasting exactly what will be the next global TV format success is very difficult thing to do but the fact that many TV creators have had repeated success with different ideas and formats shows that a methodical and experience based approach to generating TV format ideas can really increase the chances of discovering the next big thing.

Supported by Irish Film Services, Section 481.


Video Production Ireland