30 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
FremantleMedia’s Rob Clark delivers IFTA Television Lecture
24 Oct 2014 : Deirdre Molumby
Rob Clark, Director of Global Entertainment at FremantleMedia, delivers IFTA Television Lecture in Dublin.

Clark, who has ultimate responsibility for entertainment format development and production across FremantleMedia companies as well as the management of all global format acquisitions, has overseen a number of FremantleMedia’s most successful global roll-outs including ‘Got Talent’, ‘The X Factor’, ‘The Farmer Wants a Wife’, ‘The Apprentice’, ‘Hole in the Wall’, ‘Let’s Dance’, and ‘Take Me Out’, as well as the continued success and roll out of the ‘Idols’ franchise.

Clark’s FrematleMedia have, in recent years supported and distributed several Irish shows including ‘Six in the City’ (Waka TV), ‘Date with Fate’ (Tyrone Productions), ‘Genealogy Roadshow’ (Big Mountain Productions) and ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ (Animo TV/Kite Entertainment), which it secured global format rights for.

Bill Hughes chaired the session with Clark; attendees included Bill Malone, Edel Edwards, Grainne McAleer (RTÉ), Andrew Byrne and Leah Wallace (TV3), producers Billy McGrath, Philip Kampf, Patricia Carroll, Jamie D’Alton, Darren Smith and Conor Moloney.

Bill Malone, Channel Controller, RTÉ 2 said “These are interesting and very productive events, so in the room today you have some of the brightest brains of Irish television, these are independent production companies and producers who have great ideas and this is a very interesting space where Fremantle, one of the biggest companies in the world for formats are meeting some of our brightest and best so it’s an exchange of ideas. It’s healthy, it’s good and widens people’s ambition. People start not just thinking RTÉ or TV3 but more about the world, and Rob is a really interesting, entertaining guy."

Edel Edwards, Head of Programme Sales, RTÉ described the lecture as “absolutely fantastic because normally where we encounter people of Rob’s status is at MIPTV where they’re so huge it’s virtually impossible to have a one-on-one with him, let alone hear about what he really thinks, whereas a session like this, not only do we get to hear from him for the bones of an hour we also get to do a Q&A and grab him after and ask whatever you want in private. I haven’t met Rob before but I was hugely impressed, I really enjoyed the session and it’s really refreshing to meet somebody who’s just so honest and upfront about how things really are because I think that’s what people in business really want to hear as opposed to fobbing them off."

Speaking about Clark’s lecture, Andrew Byrne, Head of Formats and Development at TV3 said, “I think Rob is quite an inspirational person, his character alone is so motivating alone in one respect. He has a lot of insights in terms of the background of the industry, how the industry operates and what are tips & tricks in terms of being successful with formats, and if anything that has to be a huge positive and a big motivation moving forward."

Orla McGowan, Head of Business & Finance, VIP (who produce successful Irish formats such as The Hit, Operation Transformation and Neville’s Doorstop Challenge) spoke of the importance that “people who work in the TV industry in Ireland have a reminder of the global positioning of formats and somebody like Rob obviously has a huge expertise and insight into what’s going on. Rob was very frank and funny and for me the main point I will take away were his answers on trends, I found it absolutely so refreshing and he’s quite right. If something is here already then it’s done so you need to think of something original because that could be the next big thing.”

Ahead of delivering his television lecture, Clark spoke with IFTN about his career, the broadcasting landscape and Irish television.

What does a typical working day consist of?

“There isn’t a typical working day. I could be on any of five continents as we have offices all over the world. I would say if I was to categorise a certain typicality to my day, it would involve an airport as well as lots of phone calls and emails to lots of people, all over the world, about different shows, old ones and others in development. So it’s quite exciting, but it’s not typical which can be quite difficult.

“I love the fact that it’s so varied. I quite like the serious aspects of the work as well, as long as that’s a minority shareholding in my life. It’s still mainly a creative, programme-driven, show-driven job.”

You previously worked across producing, programme creating and writing – what has been the key role or attribute that has led to your position now?

“When I wrote, it was a team-driven thing and it was successful but I’m not a writer and I’d have no claim to be a writer. It’s the one thing I’m not good at, but I am a great team player. I think the one thing I’ve gotten out of television is that I’ve played on so many great teams in so many different shows for several companies. The way I look at my job now is I just look at the world as being one big television production. And my team has gone from being a team that I was part of to a team that I was leading in the UK and now that’s an even bigger team in the UK.”

What are some of the key trends you see for the future of the broadcasting landscape?

“If you look at the landscape of broadcasting as a whole, obviously the key trend is drama, which is not what I do, I do unscripted not scripted. But the cyclical nature of the whole television landscape is firmly at the apex of the drama curve at the moment. Having said that, I think it’s at the top of the drama curve.

“What happens is you make dramas and everyone loves the dramas. Then they get older, more expensive and the artists want more money, so they start to go down again. Then what you need is cheaper, new, fresh programming to fill that gap and something in the non-scripted world comes up. Seven years down the line, all the people in those shows want more money, the budgets get too big and that audience drops, then you need drama. So it is a cycle and we’re on the drama cycle at the moment.

“But there is always unscripted television. You can see that game shows and quizzes are back. When I was at MIPCOM recently, a broadcaster said to me, ‘You know what, Rob, I think humour is really the new thing.’ Tell me an entertainment show that doesn’t have humour in it. It’s an essential part if you look at any Saturday night show in the UK, whether it’s ‘X-Factor’ or ‘Got Talent’ or ‘The Voice’. There are a number of formats around that are based on humorous things, so I’d say that funny is good at the moment.

“Kids are appearing in lots of primetime shows which are about kids, so it’s not like ‘Got Talent’ when kids participate in it as equals with adults, this is a show about kids but I don’t really believe in that. There are also families, young and old, and mums are becoming quite prevalent. It is quite broad because when you’re talking about trends, you’re talking about peripheral trends because at the centre of everybody’s network at the moment there are still the big reality talent shows – ‘Masterchef’, ‘Got Talent’ and ‘X Factor’. Around those are peripheral shows and one of those will break through, in the not so distant future, I think.”

What has been the strength in the Irish formats that FremantleMedia has supported and distributed, shows like ‘Genealogy Roadshow’ and ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’?

“I think the strength of those formats is they’re very original and they’re quite distinct. Particularly with ‘Fittest Family’, they were the first of their kind. I think Ireland in general is a hugely creative country. I spend quite a lot of time here and I thoroughly enjoy myself. There’s so much creativity.

“I think that the level of level of knowledge and skill in traditional programme-making in Ireland is high. The challenge is trying to find that one big idea and then making sure that that launch looks great and has the budget to make it look great. That’s the real challenge for Ireland because obviously it’s a small country, the population is smaller, and the income that the networks has is smaller. So we want to all work together to sort that out. Because I think the potential here is huge. All the way through my career I’ve worked with fantastic Irish directors and producers, who have been linked with some of the biggest shows in British television.

“But it’s not as easy as it initially seems. You get a good idea, think you have a hit, but it’s not like that. You can name all the global hits on two hands and one foot.”

Finally, what advice would you give to those who want to work in TV formats?

“Well firstly, you have to want to do it because it’s hard work, long hours and, especially if you work in development, you reach what I call ‘development hell’ in which you know you have a good idea and you have no idea where to go next with it.

“I would also say two things. Make sure you have a good network of people around you who are supportive and not back-stabbing, which is harder than you’d think. Secondly, if you’ve got an idea, believe in it and push it, but don’t think that it’s only your idea. You’ve got to use the knowledge that people have that you don’t to make that idea bigger and better. It goes back to that whole thing about teams – ideas might come from individuals but if you look at virtually any big idea, it’s a team that’s actually got that on air. It may have come from one clever person, but in terms of its development and the production and everything else, it’s come from a much broader base.

“So that’s what I’d say – go for it, love it, work hard, believe in your ideas, and associate yourself with excellence around you.”

Take a look at images from The IFTA Television Lecture with Rob Clark in The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin here .

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