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All eyes on Asia’s next big thing

I-Can-See-your-Voice Asia has a reputation as one of the most innovative and vibrant regions for formats, but are imports or exports winning out locally? Andy Fry reports.

For the most part, the Asian format story splits into two key topics: the export of Japanese and South Korean formats to the international market, and attempts by global format giants to licence their hit properties into the Asia Pacific region.

Shows that illustrate the durability of Japan’s non-scripted format business include Nippon TV’s Dragons’ Den, Tokyo Broadcasting System’s Sasuke/Ninja Warrior, TV Asahi’s Beat the Champions and Fuji TV duo Iron Chef and Hole in the Wall.

Meanwhile, a high turnover of new shows within Japan means the country’s leading players regularly come to market with innovative formats, says So Fujinuma, flying producer and director of worldwide production and sales in the general business department at Tokyo-based Fuji Television.

He says kitchen entertainment format Cooking Speedmaster and gameshow Carry On! are creating demand, while The Noise, a game show for Universal Kids in which contenders are not allowed to make any noise, is gaining international interest.

There is also increased emphasis on scripted formats, he adds. “Fuji Television’s non-scripted formats have spread well across the world, but our scripted formats, although popular in Asia, have not yet travelled to all corners of the globe, so we will be aiming to build and expand in Europe and the US,” he says. “We have closed two option agreements with a studio in Hollywood, and discussions are ongoing with China and other Asian countries.”

vs-KIDS_swimmingIt’s a similar story at compatriot TV Asahi, where Yuka Kakui, head of format development and sales at the broadcaster’s international business department, says Ranking the Stars, Beat the Champions, and 31-Legged Race continue to sell well. More recently, vs Kids (left) and Experts Visiting Experts have also become strong formats.

On the scripted format front, TV Asahi has closed a deal with Radiant Pictures Co in China for the nine-part primetime drama A Family Goes Job Hunting to become a 36-episode series, with production starting in 2018.

mother-20100304NT00182Kakui believes the market is pretty positive towards Japanese formats right now – a view that is backed up by the recent success Nippon TV has had selling scripted formats into Turkey ­– Star TV’s remake of Mother (right) recently won the Tokyo Drama Award.

“Our clients and partners look to us for ideas that are unique and singular, but which are also relatable at a basic human level,” she says. “Japanese shows evolve at a fairly fast pace and thus we have a significant pool of fresh and unparalleled concepts.”

Turning to South Korea, Jangho Seo, general manager of the global content division at CJ Entertainment & Media, points to studio-based shows and outdoor reality formats such as Grandpas Over Flowers (aka Better Late Than Never) and I Can See Your Voice (pictured top).

Better-Late-Than-Never-(1)The latter, has been commissioned in China, Indonesia and Romania among others, while Better Late Than Never (left) has been ordered commissioned in six, including the US.

Seo says emerging markets are targets for scripted formats. “Recently we have been working with prodcos and channels in Turkey,” he adds. “Asia and the US are also great since they have excellent understanding of South Korean culture.”

In terms of imports into Asia, remakes in South Korea includes Saturday Night Live, which airs on CJ E&M-owned channel tvN,
1 vs 100, MasterChef and Project Runway. Japan, however, is still reluctant to buy for several reasons, according to Fuji’s Fujinuma.

“Firstly, Japanese TV producers still feel a strong sense of resistance to ‘purchasing ideas’ – especially if it involves committing to a bible,” he says.

“Secondly, the global trend towards game or variety show formats casts ordinary folk as the central figures, whereas here in Japan, professional talents and entertainers take the lead. Thirdly, only one or two formats out of 60 years of television history in Japan have succeeded in our market.”

For this reason, format owners have looked elsewhere. Talpa’s The Next Boy/Girl Band, for example, is set to air on TV next year in Thailand following a decent run in Indonesia.

On top of all this, there is still a healthy business in the sale of formats on a pan-regional basis – examples being AXN’s Asia’s Got Talent and Lifetime’s MasterChef Asia.

Viacom International Media Networks’ global head of formats, Laura Burrell, points to Lip Sync Battle, which is is now produced in 21 countries, including India and China.

In terms of wider trends, Burrell says: “Scripted formats are in high demand, as are singing formats. Nostalgia-based programming has been on most broadcasters’ wish-lists, which is reflected in our new format 90’s House being well received. The market is also opening up to factual entertainment, thanks to formats like All3Media’s Gogglebox.”

As for challenges with breaking into Asia, Burrell says: “The key is to find culturally adaptable content. We have to be sensitive to the local communities and cultural values in Asia, and ensure content abides by the laws and media regulations of each country.”

One obvious question is whether there is scope for Asian formats from outside Japan and South Korea to sell globally. Small World IFT founder and CEO Tim Crescenti has a strong track record with Asian formats – selling Dragons’ Den, Better Late Than Never and Thai show The Fan into the West,  and is now working with Chinese formats including Sing My Song. “Asian formats can work internationally, but the key is presentation, perserverance and finding a champion,” he says.

Often, Asian formats with strong universal ideas are let down “because their trailers and one-sheets don’t get the core idea across, which is where we come in”, he adds. “After that, you need to secure the first Western adaptation and that takes time. In my Sony days, it took nearly four years before BBC Two bought Dragons’ Den – then it became an international hit.”

China has been buying formats in recent years, but this has temporarily slowed thanks to a shift in the political landscape. More emphasis is now being placed on exports, with companies like 3C Media leading the way. The Chinese Dancing With the Stars producer was at MIPCOM with Ancient Games, a joint venture format with UK indie prodco Zig Zag Productions. This sees contestants participate in ancient-themed competitions on a colosseum-style set built in China, which will act as the hub for international productions, a significant development in terms of China’s global format ambitions.

Shirley Cheng, senior VP at 3C, says: “3C has an international vision. We’ve had a successful and enjoyable experience working with international partners in the past ten years.

“The agreement with Zig Zag on Ancient Games will definitely be one of our milestone international cooperations.”

Perhaps Ancient Games is a glimpse into the future of Asian formats.