'Rising Star': Stakes Are High For Creator Keshet International

Josh Groban, Kesha, Brad Paisley, 2014.
Eric McCandless/ABC

Josh Groban, Kesha and Brad Paisley on ABC's "Rising Star."

Following weeks of promotion for its upcoming singing competition show, ABC has a lot riding on this Sunday’s debut of "Rising Star." But stakes are ever higher for the format’s creators, Israel’s Keshet International.

While for the Alphabet network this is the opportunity to get into the genre in a challenging time when "American Idol" and "The Voice"'s ratings are both in decline and "The X Factor" is long gone, for Keshet it was about staying ahead of the game.

Having achieved success states side with scripted drama "Prisoners of War" – adapted as Showtime’s Emmy winning "Homeland" – "Rising Star" is Keshet’s most ambitious play yet, and one that comes with acclaim as the hottest international format right now, with over 20 territories set to launch their own version in coming months.

'Rising Star': The Billboard Cover Story

Rising Star originated at Keshet’s Tel Aviv headquarters after a decade long dominance of previous singing competition show "Kochav Nolad" ("A Star Is Born"), the indirect equivalent of "American Idol," which has been one of the most successful shows ever in the holy land, let alone in the genre. Excluding an unsuccessful attempt over at competitor Reshet Broadcasing with a lackluster version of Got Talent in 2007, no other broadcaster in Israel was willing to challenge TV powerhouse Keshet.

And then in compliance with "The Voice" spreading worldwide, Reshet brought over the Dutch format in January 2012 and a worthy rival emerged. Critics and public alike rejoiced the trendy spinning chairs, while Kochav Nolad’s tenth and final season that summer wasn’t quite the water cooler show anymore.

“The ratings were still very good, but the buzz was starting to subside when we compared it to the levels at launch,” explains Keshet CEO Avi Nir, “We felt that we needed to rejuvenate and revive the genre to bring back the excitement and buzz before the audience went into decline. We had a rude awakening that our participation formula was based on a technology, text messaging, which is some 10 years old… We spent nine months having meetings where creative, development, production and digital teams came together to discuss new ideas. We call this the gestation period. Eventually we came up with a concept that everyone agreed on unanimously and that is something that doesn’t often happen at Keshet!”

Rising Star: The Billboard Cover Shoot

Keshet’s VP of Programming Ran Telem adds that the need to innovate was at the heart of Keshet’s efforts. “Beyond the reality that nowadays a person takes to social media, sends out his status and gets instant "likes" and responses, the audience was craving a surprise,” he says, “Live viewing has to be unexpected, which is no longer the case with existing shows, therefore our goal was to showcase real time transparency, instant gratification and unpredictability. That was the basis for Rising Star."

During Keshet’s gestation period, the franchiser also introduced "Master Class," a prime time talent competition show for kids aged 8-14. The show locally aired two successful seasons thus far, and was acquired by such territories as China and Hungary, where it exceeded TV2’s average for the timeslot by 250%. The show struck a chord with viewers over its emotional feel good atmosphere, annihilating cutthroat competitiveness and eliminations. Yet an evolution of Kochav Nolad was still imminent.

With an impending second rival in the form of "The X Factor" launching on Reshet, Keshet debuted "Rising Star" last September in an untraditional period in the midst of the high holidays’ hiatus in the country. Local competitiveness aside, it was a momentum for Keshet to put forth their new baby, mere weeks before its showcase at international TV convention Mipcom in Cannes.

"The X Factor" Israel freshman season finale drew a household share of 55.7 percent, averaging 1.04 million viewers, while "Rising Star" ended with 58 percent household share of its finale, averaging 1.12 million viewers. Ultimately both launches found a huge audience, with "The Voice" (which last week returned to a third season) right on par in a very tight race, in which "Rising Star" is edging out, being an original format which relies heavily on constant live shows.

"Similar genre formats that are now running out of steam have no real reason for their live shows, while at "Rising Star" no one knows what's going to happen, including the showrunners", says Telem, "The fate lies in the hands of our viewers who ultimately make the best decisions, and we learned that the voice is not everything on this type of a TV show, which was more apparent than ever when we launched Rising Star... In Israel it definitely made a vast change in how we approach things.”

And now it remains to be seen if the genre will change with the introduction of Rising Star, premiering June 22 on ABC. Avi Nir sure hopes Keshet’s format will invigorate the landscape just like in Israel: “It instantly changed the game and brought back the spark that had been missing. The buzz and excitement came back to the genre and the ratings were consistently high throughout the entire season. Most importantly, the viewers' levels of participation and engagement crossed a new frontier."