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It seems like the Israeli TV industry is the hottest on the planet. You can find Israel everywhere – drama, reality, game show and comedy, you name it. American viewers know shows like Homeland, Still Standing, In Treatment and many more. This summer, CBS will launch yet another Israeli show – a dating reality show called 3 (Keshet) based on an Israeli format of the same name.

This is why an arms race is taking place right outside my window. Major agencies are talking to broadcasters, producers to local distributors, and commissioning editors to executives, and they’re all searching for the next big thing. Adam Berkowitz (CAA), Rick Rosen (WME) and Nina Tassler know the Israeli market so profoundly, I can imagine them chatting in Hebrew with taxi drivers.

The success of the Israeli formats is not limited to the States alone. From India to Argentina you can find shows that started on the Israeli screen. A couple of months ago Armoza Formats sold a dating show I developed for Channel 2 (along with Ohad Ouziel) called Buzz Off to Japan. It might sound crazy, but the Japanese dubbed the un-aired pilots and it did really well.

As a creative director – working all over Europe and the States – the long list of success stories coming out of Tel-Aviv and the popularity of the Israeli content is no surprise. To quote Stephen Lambert (Undercover Boss, Wife Swap): “There is maybe something in the Israeli water that makes you come up with brilliant ideas”. Israeli creative people are unique in their sense of mission, urgency and completely insane borderless thinking. For most of us, it is more than just a day job. We feel an urge to leave some sort of mark (even as ethereal as a television show) before the Iranian bomb drops and proves our Jewish paranoia fully justified. Possibly.


Some Numbers:

  • There are eight million people in Israel; however the Arabs and Orthodox Jews do not normally watch Israeli TV – leaving about 5 million viewers as the total market.

  • Terrestrial Channels:
  • One Public channel, two commercial ones:
  • Channel 2 – operates under two franchises: Reshet & Keshet
  • Channel 10
  • One operator

  • Multichannel (100+) with three commercial based cable channels (a music channel, a Russian speaking channel and an Arabic speaking channel now in trail broadcasting) provided by two companies –  HOT (cable) and YES (Satellite) who also produce their own content.

 

Israeli television began as public broadcasting in the late sixties. The first broadcasts were aired only during parts of the week, and included mainly classical concerts and religious programmes for the Arab population. That may explain the remarkable fact that Israel is the only place on earth where the beginning of television caused an increase in ticket sales to the cinema.

At its early days the channel had a deal with the BBC, so most of the overseas content came from the UK. As a result, the English vocabulary of most Israelis who grew up in the seventies contain British words like “ciggy” and “telly”. Shows made in the US began to gain prominence later, when other players entered the field. The benefit of that is that Israelis know the American market well, almost like American viewers – however, we also have more territories to be inspired by.

For more than twenty years, the public channel was the only option on the remote. Only in 1993 did the commercial channel – channel 2 – begin official broadcasting.  Channel 2 is a strange animal created by an over-creative regulator. The channel, which holds the bulk of the viewing, is divided between two franchise holders. These are two independent companies, Reshet and Keshet, change, every few years, the days of their broadcast. This unique system is about to change in upcoming years, but it is still unclear who will remain in the current broadcast channel (if any) and who will have to migrate to a different one. The competing commercial channel, Channel 10, that started broadcasting in 2002, is suffering severe economic problems – so it should somehow fit into this reshuffle, but no one has any idea yet what will happen or when.

In addition to the terrestrial channels, the cable company (908,000 subscribers) and satellite company (571,000 subscribers) together enjoy a 79% penetration rate of the premium platforms that carry a lot of American and exclusive Israeli content.

All the players mentioned above have original productions in Hebrew, produced locally as required by regulation, as well as because the audience demand Hebrew during prime time.

 

The following data was taken from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour.

  • The annual turnover of the television market in Israel is estimated at 750 million NIS (around $200 million – or one “Battleship”)
  • Israel has about 120 production companies, ten studios, and thirty post production companies
  • $ 130,000 per hour for a drama series
  • $ 100,000 per hour for a TV series
  • $ 150,000  per hour for a documentary film
  • According to some executives, the average spending on prime time on the leading channel is around 200,000$.
  • Primetime is 21.00 to 22.30; the 20.00 slot is traditionally an hour-long news broadcast.
  • The average Israeli watches TV for five hours and three minutes a day.
  • The highest television viewing ever measured was last year, when 50.4% of Israelis watched the final declaration of the winner of Master Chef(Keshet).

The Future

The big question is obviously what‘s next. Just last month, the media corporation Red Arrow (disclosure: I’m a creative partner of the group) acquired one of the biggest independent production companies in Israel – July August Productions (the creators of Still Standing, among others). The deal was a vote of confidence in the Israeli production market, and was Red Arrow’s second investment in Israel, after I became their creative partner working on shows for the arms of the conglomerate and outside for SevenOne, their distribution arm.

The deal sparked the imagination of many production companies seeking an international option. Several companies have already received proposals and other collaborators exploratory stages on different levels. Swedish production house Strix established a development center in Israel based on local talents and the US’ Genetic Content produced a pilot in Israel, in collaboration with Gross Productions, to name just two.

What’s clear is that in the upcoming years will dramatically accelerate the process.
The icing on the cake is the recent Supreme Court decision forcing the public channel to invest in new productions a minimum of 300 million NIS over the next three years. That’s a real game changer for the local industry.

It might be the water, the Iranian threat, the Jewish paranoia or A’yiddishe Mama – but creativity in Israel works overtime. Homeland is not going to be the last time you see Israeli faces on the stage at the Emmy awards, and Still Standing is not the last time an Israeli game show comes to American prime time. Watch this space!

Omri Marcus is a regular contributor to MIPBlog, and an exclusive development partner of Red Arrow Entertainment Group. All Marcus’ new formats are being distributed – notably at MIPCOM – by Seven One International.


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About Author

Omri Marcus

Omri Marcus is CEO of The Comic Genome Project and the creative director of Electric-Sheep.tv He was previously a format developer for ProsiebenSat.1/Red Arrow, and is a frequent MIPBlogger & MIP-goer.