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Viewpoint: ignore Asia at your peril

Amanda-Groom1Amanda Groom from coproduction specialist The Bridge assesses the state of the Asian market for international companies, and asks if anyone can ignore working in the region ahead of the Asia TV Forum & Market this week.

This year’s MIPCOM was proof – if needed – of Asia’s unprecedented interest in global relationships and collaboration. Confidence within the Asian TV industry is growing notably and the media landscape is booming.

The challenge facing Western and other international producers and broadcasters is how to join this Asian wave and not get dragged down in what can be an opaque and confusing television landscape.

Within Asia there is notable growth in the local and pan-regional format market, and an increasing array of coproduction business models in genres such as factual programming, specialist factual, documentary and drama.

Additionally, there are innovative co-commissioning agreements amongst leading Asian broadcasters, some of whom are forging bonds to make an impact on regional markets. One example of shared commissioning and commitment to air is NHK, PTS, KBS and MediaCorp’s ‘TAP – the Asian Pitch’.

Of course, we all know that Asia is not just one place; the differences between the nations’ cultures, understandings and languages are significant.

However, as we in the international television, film and media industries chase youthful audiences for our programming, it’s worth noting that most youth actually live in Asia. The Asia Pacific region contains 60% of the world’s youth population, comprising over 750 million people between the ages 15 and 24, many of whom have benefited from the region’s social and economic dynamism.

Youth unemployment in Asia remains amongst the lowest in the world, many of these young people speak English and almost all digitally savvy, UN stats show.

Indeed, the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam have grown steadily richer in recent decades, with gross domestic product per capita rising eightfold between 1980 and 2016.

It’s challenging to attempt to summarise such significant TV and media activity as that in Asia into useful bullet points however, the below is designed to give a quick snapshot of what is going on…

 

Asia in brief

Formats remain in strong demand across the region as channels and platforms look to increase their local content slates. There are an increasing number of format buyers across all platforms and with agencies and brands investing in formats, the result is an emerging formats business across the region.

There are also a growing number of platforms that are looking at original content and increased budgets for local productions, plus there are more available slots for such programming as channels are willing to take more risks to drive up viewership and revenues.

Still, the programming that continues to provide most value across all Asia remains game shows, entertainment, singing competitions, scripted drama and inspirational lifestyle programming. They include:

  • Global Agency has done a recent deal with Amazon Prime Video India for The Remix, a music reality show; Pick’n Run is rolling out in Vietnam next year, as is My Wife Rules, which is also headed to India.
  • Keshet International’s talent competition Masters of Dance has landed in Vietnam, Rising Star is going into its second season in India and the game show BOOM! is in Thailand and Cambodia.
  • There is sustained interest in Fremantle International’s big-brand talent shows such as Got Talent, Idol and X Factor, which continue to be successful in the territories. There is also solid traction with gameshow and comedy formats including Thank God You’re Here and My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours in Thailand, Family Feud in Mongolia and Man O Man in Vietnam.
  • All3Media International has also successfully adapted non-studio entertainment and factual entertainment for the region, including Sexy Beasts, Are You Normal?, Cash Cab, Gogglebox and Undercover Boss.

All the drama

Drama in Asia is booming in line with the global drama business worldwide. Asia is a pioneer in fiction and drama productions, particularly in South Korea with a dynamic business developing between Turkey and Korea.

All eyes will be on the major international epic drama Farewell Shanghai that was announced at MIPCOM. The series that recounts the shared destinies of a group of European Jewish refugees and Chinese characters in Shanghai, between 1938 and 1945 is really pushing the boundaries of earlier drama coproductions with producers and broadcasters from China, France, Germany and Australia all co-operating.

The show will be shot in China in English by K’ien Productions, Banijay Studios France, Breakout Films and France Télévisions’ Shanghai Media Group Pictures and Holy Mountain Films from China; AMPCO Studios from Australia; and German broadcaster NDF. An extended Chinese version of the series will also be produced for the Chinese market.

The drama has been developed by award-winning screenwriter and director Radu Mihaileanu (The Concert) and is adapted from Angel Wagenstein’s sweeping epic novel.

Leading broadcasters on both sides of the Atlantic pond are now viewing Asia as more than simply a place to sell to. This is a changing paradigm. Ten years ago broadcasters were bemused that I was working with South Korea; now many of those same networks are engaging in co-development and production deals, producing new shared IP with their counterparts in Asia, and benefitting from the creativity, ingenuity and voice authenticity emerging from many Asian creatives.

 

Coproduction questions

Of course this is still a work in progress: there are multiple discussions and opinions about the best coproduction models, not least here at The Bridge, and moving the Asian TV business from a case-by-case model to more viable models of content pipelines remains a challenge.

One leading example of a broadcaster making big inroads into Asia is A+E Networks. In Singapore, A+E has expanded its footprint with telco Singtel adding five English-language linear entertainment channels – History, H2, Lifetime, Crime + Investigation and FYI – to its set-top-box and mobile platform.

Last year, A+E Networks invested US$15 million in South Korean local production house iHQ and acquired the two channels that have now become History and Lifetime South Korea.

Streaming remains key to cracking Asian audiences and streaming services are plentiful, though their reliability varies greatly across the region. However, optimism runs high towards a future of superior bandwidth options and a world of mega functionality.

The biggest and most ambitious local player is FOX Networks Group’s Fox+. Hong Kong is Fox+’s fourth market launch since rolling out in the Philippines in March this year, and the platform is also up and running in Singapore and Taiwan.

New players have emerged this year including Hong Kong’s hmvod; DEN TV+ and Bigflix in India; Oona in Indonesia; and Kakao TV in South Korea.

Newcomers on our radar for 2018 are ZEE5, scheduled to roll out in the second half of 2018 as part of Indian media giant Zee’s domestic, regional and international expansion plans, and Premium Platform Japan, which launches in April 2018. ​

Of course, entering the Asian market is challenging and it’s worth being aware of changing circumstances in China and Korea, as the ongoing Chinese freeze on Korean content continues to cause problems within South Korea.

For Western production companies, there remains an ongoing challenge in doing business in China, yet coproduction with China is thriving despite the challenges of having to comply with China’s IP ownership regulations as China’s restrictions continue to grow and present ever greater challenges.

However, coproduction in India is really taking off and presents hugely exciting opportunities, as do Thailand and Malaysia – all countries poised to jump ever higher onto the international stage in the very near future.

So in conclusion, with Asia being the fastest growing economic region and largest continental economy by both GDP and purchasing power parity in the world my question is: can any of us afford not to engage with Asian media?