Viewer retention is a key factor in the YouTube algorithm that calculates search discovery and ad revenue. So when Gayle Gilman, chief of FremantleMedia North America’s digital studio Tiny Riot!, saw that the initial episodes of its revivals of Family Feud, Password and Body Language on its YouTube game show channel Buzzr were seeing a 70% retention on episodes ranging from eight to 18 minutes – an eternity in the online video space – she was as jazzed as a contestant who just aced the lightning round.
“That kind of retention is insane for YouTube,” says Gilman, EVP of digital content for FremantleMedia North America. “In fact, when we first shared those numbers with (YouTube execs), they were like, ‘I can’t believe it.’ They want people watching longer. And people are watching three episodes in a session.” (YouTube does not release overall audience retention averages.)
Gilman has a theory why Buzzr is scoring such high retention rates.
“You can’t do a cute pet video that’s 18 minutes, but when you have game play, people want to watch to the end and see who’s going to win,” she says.
Gilman spent two seasons in Alaska riding around in big rigs as the show runner on Ice Road Truckers, produced by Thom Beers. When Beers – who was appointed CEO of FremantleMedia North America in 2013 – brought her on board to launch Tiny Riot! a year and a half ago, she searched the company’s vast catalog of IP – which contains everything from competition shows such as American Idol to Bob Hope films like The Seven Little Foys and Son of Paleface – for low-hanging fruit that was ripe to be adapted for digital platforms.
It didn’t take her long to uncover a mother lode of potential – 154 game shows formats, primarily from its acquisition of the Goodson-Todman Productions library, only four of which were being produced for television here in the U.S.
“I thought that was a really good opportunity, because was nobody was really reimagining game shows for the YouTube platform or the digital audience,” Gilman says. “Then I came to YouTube and started having conversations with them, and they said, ‘We’ve been dying to figure out how to break game shows (on the platform) for the last year.'”
So Tiny Riot! took up residence at YouTube Space LA in February and March to shoot new versions of Password, Family Feud and Body Language re-imagined for digital-natives, which started rolling out their first seasons last month.
Key to the conversion was choosing games that were simple enough to pull off without costly, complicated sets or big prizes – which is why the charades show Body Language, which had a two-season run in the mid-80s, got the nod instead of a more high profile property like The Price of Right.
Also vital was filling both the host and contestant slots with young digital influencers who would appeal to the 18 to 24 age demo. This meant that a very loose definition of the word “family” would need to be used for Family Feud, hosted by Adam Lustig (College Humor), which uses teams of three instead of the traditional five-person team on the TV version, which debuted in 1976.
“We have a team captain and they bring fellow YouTubers they’ve known or cross-promoted with,” says Gilman of Feud. “We had a couple of people who brought their husband or wife who also had a channel or was participating in their channel, and somebody who brought their cousin. But mostly it’s people who are working together. ”
Password host Steve Zaragoza (SourceFed) says he didn’t know what to expect when he auditioned for the show. He was unfamiliar with the original 1960s and 1970s incarnation of Password and its host, Allen Ludden, the late husband of actress Betty White. So he just did his thing, manically running around the set and interacting with audience members.
Gilman says there’s a possibility that the online games shows could be repurposed for linear TV, including a potential programming block on Buzzr TV, a cable channel launching in June dedicated to vintage game shows from the FremantleMedia catalog.
In the meantime, Tiny Riot! is in pre-production on a version of Beat the Clock, which originally debuted on television in 1950, and developing three wholly original new game shows for YouTube.