Ladies and gentlemen, The next thirty minutes I am going to tell you a succes story. A story about a television show that has dominated Dutch television ever since it started and is currently on its way to become an international succes. This show is called ‘Find my family’. A weekly show featuring people searching for family members whom they’ve lost contact with. Let me first give you some factual information, before telling you more about the content: -
Find my family is made by the KRO, a Dutch public broadcasting company It has an average marketshare between 33 and 36% It started in 1990 In 2001 it won the most prestigous Dutch Television award ‘The Dutch ring’ It has won countless international awards 22 episodes are made every year which are broadasted in three series It is made by a team of 14 people
‘Find my family’ is a television show about the strongest relationship that exists between human beings. A relationship you don’t choose. Your father can be the nicest person in the world. He can be a vicious criminal as well. Your mother might love him. Or she might have left him, taking the children with her. Whether there is love, indifference, or sometimes even outrage, the break of family ties is always of dramatical consequences. Take for instance the story of Wynand van Waardenburg. Who married in 1969 and got a daughter called Diana. Not long after the birth of his daughter the marriage collapses. Wynand moves to South Africa and looses contact with Diana….He, has a new life. When Wynand retires and breaks up with his second wife he starts looking back. And realizes he has made some serious mistakes in life. One of them is not staying in contact with his daughter. But he knows very well, that it is entirely his fault, that they are no longer in touch. Therefore he doesn’t dare to contact Diana, and calls ‘Find my family’. Instart video I (zoektocht Diana) Ladies and gentlemen. This is the essence of ‘Find my family’ Now you might think: not knowing your biological mother or father is a rare thing. So how many stories can you tell? Well, I can tell you it isn’t rare at all. The Netherlands has a population of about 16 million. And according to experts the shocking figure of people that don’t know their biological mother or father is 500.000. That is about 3 percent of the Dutch population. Our show helps people finding relatives. We find them. In the Netherlands. Or abroad. With the help of an impressive network of local correspondents in every part of the world.
Let me tell you a little bit about the history of the show. When Find my family started, 22 years ago, the original goal was not reuniting family members at all. We wanted to use television as a means for people to get in touch with old friends and acquaintances again so that they could talk about the old days. We were thinking then of classmates, people who served together in the armed forces or people who’d met on holliday and who’d lost touch. This is what ‘Find my family’ looked like at the time. Instart video II (historie Spoorloos) These first 3 years the show was fairly popular but the marketshare was diminishing from 30% to 20%. We noted that we started getting more and more letters from young men and women who were looking for their unknown father or unknown mother, who had given them up for adoption for example. We never thought there were this many people who lost touch with their father and mother. We started to understand that the desire to be reunited with a birth mother or natural father is very overwhelming. And we decided to introduce these stories in our show as well. Not long after we devoted our show exclusively to the search for relatives. Powerpoint instart (the development of the marketshare) In the mean time ‘Find my family’ became an international success. Before Patty’s company ‘Absolutely Independent’ started selling the format about seven years ago the show was only sold to three countries: Belgium, Denmark and Poland. Only in Denmark the show was a succes. Now the format has been sold to more than 20 countries.
Find my family not only has an impressive marketshare on prime time television, it has a huge impact on society as well. And in my personal view, the best television shows, whether they are public or commercial, are socially relevant. In the Netherlands ‘Find my family’ completely changed the view on adoption and the right of children to know who their natural parents are. In the 80’s and early 90’s adoption children’s right to know their parents was often contested. And Find my family played an essential rol in changing this vision. When law passed in parlement, the show was regulary quoted. Professor Hoksbergen, an eminent scolar in adoption law, says it is utterly unethical and medically irresponsible to withhold a child information about his biological background. When he said: “Find my family shows society that it is a fundamental right to know your origin, and that the lack of this knowledge brings down the quality of life”, we were of course very proud. We get about 2500 requests for searches every year. Often these are people that came to know only recently that their parents are not their natural parents. Most of the time they get this information because of a conflict in the famliy. 95 % of these requests is from people who’ve never seen their relatives. About 10% of the requests we turn down. These are cases where criminal justice is involved or cases were we suspect incest. Also a lot of the requests are quite easy to solve. When we solve a case with a minimum of effort we usually just give
people the address where their relatives live. So we help a lot more people than actually appear in the show. The searches we put more effort in are generally concerns people who have tried everything they were capable of to find their family. These are the cases that we can solve with our expertise, contacts and mediapower. The most interesting stories appear in our television show.
I often wonder whether you can call ‘Find my family’ a format. Is it not more like an idea? All you do is just looking for lost family members. And everybody is at liberty to start such a show. And it is true. ‘Find my family’ is not a show with many format elements. We even strongly believe that formatting the show would ruin it completely. ‘Find my family’ is about storytelling. And the quality of this storytelling is. I would say, it is the deciding factor that makes this show a success or not. With the story telling we accentuate the authenticity of the show, the fact that we tell real stories. For this reason we avoid overtly dramatic effects. This might sound strange. But we strongly believe that our viewers want to see a documentary approach and that dramatic music, ambushes and close ups of people who are in tears, you name it, don’t help to emphasize the authenticity of a story. When people don’t want to appear in our show, you won’t see them… Instart video III As you can see a happy ending is not a necessary feature of the show. We only succeed in solving 50% of the cases we try to solve. Some of our most impressive stories though are about people who ultimately don’t find their family. Not every production company has the skill to make this show and understands its principles. In the United States we found that the story telling was not up to our standards. A positive recent example is ITV. I don’t know if there is somebody from ITV present? I was personally very impressed with the show they made, especially with the impressive level of story telling. Instart video IV (trailer ITV) I used this show to inspire our own staff. It is interesting to see how the international sales and learnings of other production companies, can make the original show better. So what does it mean then in the end, buying the format? Well, it is not as easy as you might think: finding and approaching people who are looking for a lost family member, or finding lost people. To produce this show you need a lot of expertise and experience and… an international network of people specialized in searching people. This is what we offer.
I am currently working for the KRO for 4 years. So when I talk about the succes of ‘Find my family’ my contribution has been very modest. Though I am very proud of the most recent transition ‘Find my family’ went trough. When I started working for the KRO the staff of ‘Find my family’ was hesitant about recent developments in the media. The expectation was that Google and social media would allow people to do their own research. The potential of social media is enormous. For it can involve people more. It makes them participants of the show instead of mere viewers, in the sense that they are now actively contributing to the searches of lost family members. This spring we launched for the first time a major social media search. It was the search for Andres Felipe, the son of Claudia Ramirez. Claudia thought she had lost her son forever in 1985, when her local village in Colombia was the victim of a vulcano eruption. Everybody asumed that the 5 year old Felipe did not survive the disaster. This all changed when Claudia saw during a commemoration last year images of a fireman holding her son in his arms. Chances were reasonable that Felipe ended up in the Netherlands through adoption. Because there was a huge Dutch adoption program running at the time. Last month we decided to do an international search with the help of social media. We made a story for our television show. And for the first time in its existence ‘Find my family’ explicitely asked people to help searching for Felipe. And to share the following call that we launched on facebook: Video instart V (oproep Derk) We also actively asked famous Dutch people – for instance DJ Tiësto - to support this call through Twitter. Experts told us, not to get our hopes up, for a social media network is something you have to build up in time. We were surprised though when we noticed that in 1 week time 15 million people shared this video on Facebook. We are still searching for Felipe Ramirez and hope to find him soon… Thank you for your attention.