Television programme format rights – why pay when you can copy free?

July 2009


Television formats such as X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent are extremely popular with audiences. Over the last decade, the UK has emerged as the world’s major format developer, accounting for between 20-50% of all format hours broadcast annually worldwide. Yet, there is no such thing as a television format right under copyright law. How then could format developers, such as Endemol or Fremantlemedia become multinational companies, licensing their programmes around the globe? For example, “Who wants to be a Millionaire” has been recreated in 108 territories while local versions of Idols have aired (over 129 series) in 42 territories receiving about three billion votes. Researchers from Bournemouth University have studied the exploitation of television formats under an ESRC grant as part of a joint business placement scheme with FremantleMedia, one of the major independent TV producers. The study has created a database of 59 reported format disputes between 1988 (when the issue of TV format rights first surfaced in the landmark legal case ofGreen v Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand). The researchers then conducted semi-structured interviews with media sellers and buyers at three international television trade fairs (NATPE Las Vegas, DISCOP Budapest and ATF Singapore). The emerging patterns of exploitation were specified through three case studies of successful television formats developed by FremantleMedia: Idols, Got Talent and Hole in the Wall. The research team was led by Professor Martin Kretschmer of the intellectual property centre at Bournemouth University (, Jonathan Wardle (of Bournemouth University’s renowned The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice and Sukhpreet Singh.

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