As the 20th anniversary year of Frapa nears its end, its co-chair looks back at the history and achievements of the format protection agency, and at what the future may hold.
This summer, in the most extraordinary of years, I set out to research and write the history of Frapa as it celebrates 20 years serving the format industry. As one of the longest-serving members of the Frapa board I wanted to investigate the causes that led to its creation, and whether or not in a world of consolidation and streamers its mission was still relevant. In the process, I reflected not only on how much things have changed but also on how much of the song remains the same.
It all started in 1999 after someone lost a bet. That was between two of our founding members, the much-missed David Lyle, who was working at Pearson (which later became Fremantle), and Paul Gilbert, a format legend who was then working at Sony. Both were entertainment veterans and both were involved in the distribution of formats. Sony and Fremantle were suing each other over a very specific format rights dispute. The loser was to buy lunch, but that sparked an idea: how about we don’t make it about winners and losers?
Along with fellow founder Michel Rodrigue and a roster of other luminaries, Frapa was brought into existence as a way to solve issues like these and to keep the lawyers out of it. That ethos is absolutely what lies at the heart of Frapa 20 years on – to provide a cooling area where people can come together and resolve disputes. As time rolled on, Frapa has tried to provide every possible tool we can think of to prevent those situations from occurring in the first place. Our history, vision and values are more relevant today even than in those now ancient days of just two decades ago.
If we take creativity as meaning an original idea that has value, then it follows that protecting IP has a genuine river of benefits. From creators, producers, broadcasters, distributors and platforms, how much someone is willing to pay for that value is the same as any currency – it’s built on trust. Otherwise, the entire system falls apart.
This ‘format food chain’ continues to exist if we are all conscious links within it. Sound idealistic? We may not have a perfect union, to paraphrase a cherished American ideal currently under threat, but as long as we strive towards this, maybe we can make it at least better for everyone. That’s exactly what we continue to work for. Organisations formed by the industry for the industry that are neutral, impartial, independent and non-profit are vital to refereeing a complicated playing field.
If you are compelled to create, the ability to live from your art is to be in control of that creation, to monetise it anyway you can and not to be ripped off. In the face of rampant mergers and acquisitions and streamers who demand total ownership, protecting the rights of IP creators is more urgent than ever. Contracts from two years ago are relics, contracts today are quicksand, and who the hell knows what the deals of the future will look like.
All this provides fierce challenges, so the more interconnected we are, whatever the size of your organisation or wherever you are on the planet, the better. From giant corporations who have a long way to fall with expensive court cases, to those who are most vulnerable to theft, stealing is no good for any stakeholder. If everyone thinks it is OK to steal, then everything loses its ancillary value. The entire system collapses. While there is no honour among thieves, there is also limited profit potential, so it may not be worth it.
There’s a huge amount to be gained from a community that is vocal and clear about the network keeping a collective interest at heart and providing some railings on the highway of creativity.
Pivot points like ours provide a place to network your ass off with the toolkits that allow us all to gain a clear understanding of the value of what we create. Codes of conduct that allow us to get on with the business of creating but with a stamp that says what you stand for. A declaration of cooperation that offers the higher ideals that we could – and should – embrace as a means of protecting ourselves and our industry.
We need to provide affordable and best-in-class knowledge to anyone who wants access to it. We need to foster a global exchange of fresh ideas and honest commerce. The global next generation of great shows are not all going to hop off corporate ladders, they’ll come from perhaps the most unexpected places and sources, and need to be nurtured in a collaborative and respectful environment.
We are gearing up to make sure the next 20 years of Frapa welcomes as many voices as possible. We are evangelical in our desire to spread the word as the conscience of the format industry, strengthening the community and certainly this time not leaving it to a bet.
SECTIONS: Formats Lab