Kate Neale, of the consulting firm Wanted in Australia, specialises in TV formats and branded content. She goes over four key elements you need to prepare before pitching material at MIPTV or MIPCOM.
How much and what sort of detail should I include when pitching a TV format document at MIPTV?
Keep the document very brief and simple, just the key elements of your format. In so doing, make sure you capture the drama/conflict inherent in the format, as this is the buyer’s key interest. You should be able to summarise the format in a title and a logline that is no longer than 5-25 words. A good tip is to imagine you’re writing the logline to give an overview of your show in a TV Guide in the briefest possible sense eg. ‘Dudes to Dads – the baptism of fire that turn 10 ordinary guys into someone’s dad’ or ‘D-Day – Prepare for the invasion’.
If there is a competition element to the format, make sure you’re PREPARED to run through at least three good examples. Don’t include them in the overview but have them on you so you can expand, if asked. The buyers have back-to-back 10-15 minute meetings all day and they know a good format a mile away. Prepare to give your presentation in under 2-3 minutes plus your support reel if you have one. This leaves a good amount of time to discuss the details if they’re interested. If there is a particular reason you have specialist knowledge or strong talent attached to the format already, let that be known.
Is it essential to have a screener/pilot/teaser and if so what is the preference?
If you can produce a good quality example of what you’re format is intending, great, but keep it to under 2 minutes. It doesn’t have to have high production values, but it does have to communicate your format succinctly and effectively in that time. You should also have materials to leave behind, such as a copy of the reel and a couple of pages that outline your format, for the buyer to take back. Keep this small (they have a lot of stuff to carry back) but not so small (e.g. a thumb drive) that it can be lost or overlooked. A picture paints a thousand words, so try to use imagery to convey your ideas. This also helps to set your ideas apart from the hundreds of others the buyers will see while there.
Is it common practice to have a non-disclosure signed before discussing the format idea?
It’s very rare that the buyers would sign an NDA, more likely you will be required to sign over your rights if you’re willing to expose them to them. Sadly that’s the nature of the game. Best way of protecting your idea is to learn about copyright protection and then register a detailed version of it with the Copyright Office and writers Guild in the US. It’s cheap, you can do it online and it’s the best defence should your concept be ripped off later.
Please be aware though, you cannot protect an idea, only the manner in which it is executed and even the slightest change can preclude recourse on someone who steals it – I speak from experience. Even then, the path to recompense is complex, expensive and time consuming. You can safely assume that if someone is going to rip off your idea, they will and you are powerless really to do much about it. Thankfully not everyone in the industry is predisposed to this behaviour, but you’d be surprised.
What do people generally think about attending MIP Formats / MIPTV; is it worth it?
If this is your first time in selling a format, MIP is worth going to for an education. You can see how formats are packaged and sold and what’s out there. To gain the respect of the buyers and not waste their time, you need to educate yourself on where your particular format best fits, before you book a meeting with anyone, checking which producer, channel, broadcaster etc. Research who is attending and who you should target and then contact them before MIP so you can have a chance of getting a time slot with them. If you use your time there effectively, you should be able to network in a manner that allows you to prepare a more effective sales pitch should you get in front of the right people. 🙂
For more about pitching and making money at Cannes see the Cannes Starter Guide