It may surprise you to learn that developing a television show is remarkably similar to creating a new business. Every show idea, every production, is like creating a new business. They all require their own business plan. The key to success? Inspiration, opportunity, timing, network, ability, and a bit of luck.
Inspiration is the start of any good idea. Sometimes it just strikes. However, in TV development, we can’t always wait for that moment to strike. Often, we must try and find ways to push ourselves into a state of creative flow, to create circumstances where inspiration can strike.
This flow state was first coined by researcher & psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and his later book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Flow state is described as being on the border of a person’s skillset and their ability to produce something new and push forward. If something is too challenging, the person will get frustrated, but if it is not challenging enough, then it can lead to boredom.
You can increase your ability to reach flow states through Deliberate Practice. By developing the specific skills associated to your goals, challenging yourself beyond your comfort zone and consistently using feedback to improve. I refer to this as, not just deliberate, but strategic practice.
It can also occur in groups, creating a social flow, rather than solely on an individual level. This is ideal in a development setting as you work to brainstorm or flesh out an idea.
What I have realised over my career, is that something can be an opportunity but not necessarily your opportunity. This next stage is crucial to determining the opportunity. In entrepreneurship there is a principle referred to as the Bird in Hand, which asks Who you are, What you know and Whom you know. With four key concepts that address the following; is it doable? Is it worth doing? Can I do it? Do I want to do it? Sometimes an opportunity can be created and other times, an opportunity exists for you to grab. The Bird in Hand principle can be used as a feasibility study of your idea, which will help you identify how to move forward.
Each idea needs to be thoroughly fleshed out and researched which can save you (and your company) time, money and energy. It is not uncommon to think you have found the next great hit, only to find out that it’s already been produced years ago, or a similar idea was just sold to another broadcaster or streamer. Sometimes, it has already been produced and it did not end up performing well. This could mean there is an opportunity if you have a way to solve what didn’t work the first time around. Or it could mean it is not worth your time pursuing it further. This is why entrepreneurs often fail before they succeed.
Timing and opportunity go hand in hand. In TV development research is invaluable, but you need to strike a balance between doing too much or too little. You need to do enough research to understand the opportunity, but not too much that you miss out on the opportunity. Specifically, this can mean knowing:
- Which shows are currently being bought,
- Which ones are performing well,
- What companies are looking for, their appetite for risk,
- Any new companies joining the industry (they can throw a curveball to the industry),
- Changes within current companies,
- What the audience is watching,
- Current cultural matters that might affect audience appetite, etc.
With regards to the last point, the pandemic was an interesting case study. During the first wave, there was a large appetite for Covid related programming. However, after the first couple of waves, the audience quickly grew tired of anything Covid related and escapism became increasingly important.
The timing has to be right, the audience has to be ready for it. It took 10 years for Squid Game to sell, and it became the first Korean language film to top the most-watched charts. It was felt as too brutal for tv. However, 10 years later, the world changed, and the audience could relate to the themes of the show.
Any investor wants to know, “if I give you this money, will it bring me a return of my investment?” “Do you have the ability to make it succeed?” “Why do YOU deserve the investment and not someone else with a similar idea?” It is critical for an investor to know if you have the ability to bring your idea to fruition. Rapport and reputation can play significantly into an investor’s perception of your ability, and at this stage, perception is everything. At The ATS Team, we are known for our work on large scale challenge, stunt and competition shows. We’ve designed, built and tested thousands of games and we’re able to leverage 20+ years of experience to provide confidence on our ability (Bird in Hand moment).
If you don’t have a reputation or proven track record, then you have to get resourceful in how to prove your ability. In TV, that often means partnering with another producer who has the relevant proven track record. In business, this may mean bringing someone onto the team or board with a relevant proven track record.
TV is a business of “whom you know”, the third element of the Bird in Hand framework. To sell a TV show, you will need several key players within your network. This is all about access (a key word in the industry). Some examples of who you need access to are commissioners, producers & talent. It is crucial to be resourceful and leverage who you know to gain access to who you need to know.
The “magic” ingredient. No one knows exactly how much of it you need or when to add it. You are seemingly in the right place at the right time with the right people and the stars align. We call it luck because we can’t quantify it. What we do know, is that luck can be created, and if you leverage inspiration, opportunity, timing, your network, and ability, you can create more chances for those stars to align.