The Rise of the Business Entertainment Format on British Television

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Enter the Dragon…

One of the other business entertainment formats that has proven to be successful, particularly in its UK version has been Dragons Den (2005 – present). The origins of this format come out of Japan and a show called Money no Tora (meaning Money Tiger), that was created by Sony and broadcast on Nippon television in 2001. At its core the BBC programme, which is the longest running of any of the particular versions of the format that have been sold to Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands, is the idea of business investors having ideas pitched at them by a range of inventors and/or entrepreneurs. The investors (dragons) put up their own money, and those seeking investment in their idea/product/business must secure the full investment or leave with nothing. In so doing they echo the practice of business ‘angels’ type investment, where venture capitalists take various forms of risk by investing in new start ventures.

The pitches take place in a rather rundown warehouse location, and while the dragons have changed over the six series of the programme, two have remained throughout the series. Indeed both Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones have used the media profile that the programme has offered them to develop and enhance their own broader media and business profile (most of the dragons will produce autobiographies and business self help books). Jones has himself moved into television production and extended his media portfolio into creating new television formats, including co-creating American Inventor (which ran for two seasons on ABC Television from 2006) and Tycoon which his production company also produced for ITV in the UK in 2007.
In the UK, the Dragons Den version has aired on BBC 2 and been fronted by Evan Davis, who was then the BBC’s Economics Editor and has since become one of the key presenters on BBC radio’s flagship morning news Today programme. Davis is clear that the format comes out of BBC Entertainment, but that that does not mean that it does not have other merits beyond a simple entertainment mode of address to the audience, not least in having an educational element regarding the world of business. He argues:
Its good fortune is that it has had both of these elements. I think it can be educational, and there are word used on the Dragons’ Den that would not get on a news programme. For example you would tend to use the words shares rather than equity on a news programme. On Dragons’ Den the word is used all the time. I do think that TV can create a climate of opinion, but that is not necessarily the intention. I wouldn’t want you to think there is any mission here. There is no mission here other than to entertain. By good fortune the entertainment requires a bit of educational fibre and those of us who like the public to get exposed to those sorts of things are quite happy to join in with it as we know this is a pretty good way to give people a sense of what goes on. I think programmes such as Dragons’ Den have brought ideas about enterprise to a wider audience. I base that on the reaction from the public and particularly younger people to the show. Among say 14 -22 year olds they are interested in the programme and TV has helped shape that climate of opinion.

(Interview with author, 12 January, 2007).

In late 2008, Mark Burnett, the US based creator of The Apprentice, had secured a pilot slot from ABC television for his version of the Dragons Den, called The Shark Tank. In the world of business entertainment formats, it seems what goes around certain television markets comes around, although all these programmes are specifically tailored for their particular institution location and the particular television market and audiences at which they are aimed.

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