How To Pitch Reality TV Content

One of the most competitive content categories in the global marketplace is Reality TV. Developing, producing and marketing truly original reality formats requires innovation. Whether you come to NATPE seeking development interest or a commissioning investment for your original concept – or to license “in the can” market-ready content to territories around the world – you have to be able to pitch effectively.

Mike Beale, EVP Global Development & Formats, ITV Studios shares some important Do’s and Don’t’s: “DO keep it concise. If you can’t get the essence across in a short paragraph, it’s too complicated. Formats are simple!”

Successful reality TV tends to be high concept, easy to market and affordable to produce. Declare your format and genre clearly, early on.  Identify your target audience. Their demographics and psychographics may provide clues as to your best distributor prospects.

Mr. Beale encourages you to check their catalogue to ensure you aren’t pitching them something they already have. “It’s available online, so check.” This critical due diligence strategy should be employed with every prospect prior to attending the conference – or at the latest: on site. Refer to their company websites, use MyNATPE  or subscription services like Variety Insight or IMDBPro to check who’s got what in development. With so many professionals actively developing material, project similarities are inevitable and overlaps are almost impossible to avoid. Forewarned is forearmed.

Mr. Beale warns: “DON’T pitch me a show that is “better” than one of my existing shows (i.e.: “This is the new and improved Hell’s Kitchen). It might be true – but that’s not a good way to get me on your side.”

You are expected to be passionate about your project – just not derisive of an entire genre, format or slate. Telling development, production or acquisition executives how to do their jobs – even enthusiastically – isn’t the best way to enroll them as champions of you or your project. 

Know your Competition

Strategically analyze how your show is similar to successful comparable shows. Breakdown how your approach is different from their (or their competitors’) content. Be versed in what your prospect – and its siblings – currently produce or distribute that might serve as complementary programming.

Check out past winners of NATPE’s Reality Breakthrough Awards and Unstructured Reality, Structured Reality and Reality Competition Emmys to see who the best in your class are – and try to reverse engineer why and how they connected with audiences and the industry – and use that knowledge to help your creation compete with the cream of the crop.

Don’t Be Derivative

There’s a fine balance between what each entity can market as familiar and comfortable and in their wheelhouse versus what’s fresh, innovative and original – but not too “out there.” They want what’s new – not what’s “the next” insert popular show here.

Create a Great One Sheet

“DON’T expect me to read pages and pages of a presentation.”

Think: one sheet (actually one two-sided piece of paper – usually with lots of white space and professional key art). Present your catchy title, clever tagline, intriguing premise populated by engaging characters in unique worlds as succinctly as possible with an establishing image or title treatment – and brief credibility-inspiring bios. And don’t forget your contact info!

Protect Your Intellectual Property

Register your treatment with your local Writers Guild (the WGA West or East in the U.S.) or your script (if you have one) with your local copyright office (in the states: the U.S. Electronic Copyright Office).  More insights on intellect property here.

Think Internationally

Mr, Beale finishes with: “DO make sure it is a global idea. Territory specific talent or access make it tough in a format world.” Are you offering up material with franchise-potential?  Timely, topical or evergreen formats that can travel with ease or be easily customized to different territories without losing the integrity (and protect-ability) of the concept will prove to be the most valuable commodities.

Blue Line

heather-haleHeather Hale is a screenwriter, director, producer, and consultant. She leads StoryTellers on WalkAbout retreats. Her book How to Work the Film & TV Markets is due out in the Spring.