Israel's Cowell on making a global success at Cannes


Avi Armoza may not be a name you instantly recognise but his reputation as ''Israel's Simon Cowell'' means he's one of television's most formidable talents. Next week, he will make his tenth consecutive appearance at the prestigious MIPTV Cannes festival, confirming his status as the key Israeli player in the international content market.

"Ten years ago, I just came to Cannes by myself and stood at the Israeli stand and now, 10 years later, I come with 20 people here. It was frightening in the beginning but then it showed us how to grow. In 2005, I came with one format to sell and now I come with 85.''

So how has he taken a small, unstable TV market and successfully pitched it against the international giants? How have Israeli TV programmes such as BeTipul, Hostages and Prisoners of War become such global hits and started to influence television in a way few expected?

"We pioneered taking formats out of Israel to the international market and we were also able to lead the way and establish a business within the Israeli market.

"When I came to Cannes for the first time, it was still an international market dominated by the major territories like the US and UK. And we were parts of the process that was educating the market to understand that good content and good formats can actually come from anywhere in the world.

''And, once we started making deals, we naturally found a large catalogue of formats and content. Once I could see that the platform was there, I realised we could be self-sufficient as well, rather than buying in third-party content.

"Then I figured we needed to develop around the flow of format and take the knowledge gained from our marketing and use it to develop our shows. I had very clear goals every year, which were to sell to English-speaking markets such as the BBC. After that, we wanted to reach the US so I sold a show to NBC. Then I wanted to develop my own talent show, I Can Do That (which has just featured the likes of Nicole Scherzinger) in 70 countries so we did our work in a very structured way from one year to another."

But can a talent show like I Can Do That really repeat the kind of success that something like Hostages achieved in the UK?

''I think we are lucky to live in a market-place where everything changes with television. It is a very exciting time to be on television with the audience moving to watch content across a multitude of platforms from computers to mobile phones. It is about watching content anywhere, any time and it's up to me now to develop the next generation of content to reach those platforms.

"I want to play a key role in this changing world of television," Armoza stresses, smiling at the thought of being considered in mogul terms, ''even if it's more likely to be Cowell comparison than a Berlusconi.

"I have never missed a single Cannes. It is a community down there - this is the central square of television and yes I am very happy to come here and meet the people I work with. This is the relationship that my team needs to have with its clients, in a very friendly environment.

''This is the business of not knowing. It is an ongoing process. It's that exploration of not knowing what comes next, which one needs to have to be ahead of the market."

I ask if he feels he has always been flying the flag solo for Israel or whether other companies have followed his lead, and now visit Cannes as well.

"After five or six years, when we were here and able to prove that we were carrying out a good business model, then some other major Israeli companies followed. Competition is great, though, and pushes the whole Israeli television industry forward.

The main thing is you have to surround yourself with a very positive atmosphere. People are generally friendly in television but, unless you have the ability and the structure to intensely follow up those relationships you make in the long term…then you won't succeed."

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