Opinion: Is it too late to join the train to Asian content?

The Masked Singer

TBI’s resident format expert, Siobhan Crawford, explores how the clamour for Asian IP is affecting opportunities and asks what needs to change to increase sales into the region

Pop Quiz. Let’s all say the things that spring to mind when thinking about the Asian unscripted formats market. I will predict your answers: The Masked Singer, Squid Game, I Can See Your Voice, Bomanbridge, Wonwoo Park, Takeshi’s Castle, Ninja Warrior, Nippon, Something Special. Did I get it right?

Siobhan Crawford

The unknown

There are two regions that strike fear into the hearts of execs everywhere (not only unscripted); Latin America and Asia. Two regions that evade many of us due to the sheer size, language and cultural barriers and variations between the countries.

It used to be that you spoke with Sony for Lat Am – other big players have tried and back-tracked in the region. In Asia, it seems partnerships are the most popular way forward. Credit where it is due, Asia did not start to blow up our screens until 2014 when Small World got Grandpas Over Flowers commissioned on NBC. Now, ‘Korea’ has become the buzzword synonymous with smash hits that execs get serious FOMO over. And we’ve talked FOMO before, but missing a Korean format is a faux-pas that you will replay in your head during your career. I have heard the stories.

But do we believe Asia holds the next big thing? Are headlines translating into sales? Can Korea have a scripted and an unscripted boom simultaneously? And how integrated are the Asian markets with their biggest clients in Europe?

Squid Game

Too late. It’s covered?

I Can See Your Voice: Fremantle. The Masked Singer: Fremantle. DNA Singer: Fremantle. Blood Game: Banijay. Exchange: Banijay. Drive Thru Oke: NBCUniversal. Fox Alternative Entertainment partnering with Wonwoo Park’s DL Turn. CJ ENM agreeing catalogue partnerships. It doesn’t seem like there’s much room left in Korea for anyone but the big players when it comes to finding the next bit hit.

FOMO means deep pockets and big groups are winning the battle for content and the small indies can try, but we as an industry are leaving Koreans with an unrealistic expectation of what format distribution agreements should look like. You have to believe, though, that sometimes big group strategy is exactly what these formats need to become hits.

The next territory making waves is Japan. Ninja Warrior, Takeshi’s Castle, Dragons’ Den. We have TBS pushing into co-production partnerships, Kansai entering into development with Fremantle, Nippon worked with Warner for lukewarm hit Mute It, Line Up represent NHK formats worldwide… the list goes on. Working with Asian territories is certainly for the optimists amongst us – and those who have the firm belief that the next big hit will come from one of these territories.

There is, however, still space in Asia. Broadcasters like YTV in Japan hit the spotlight with Light Away at BCWW 2021 and control distribution. Chinese producer HF Media is pitching Idol Formation into Europe after the huge pan-Asian success. The juxtaposition of the broadcasters, not the producers, making the push to exploit content internationally is something uniquely Asian though. In Europe, we feel the presence of the prodcos much more.

Ninja Warrior


The idea of selling a format into Asia is near impossible in 2022 unless you have the big brands. The changing situation in China to foreign owned IP has created a barrier that for a decade we, as an industry, have not overcome. So does this leave Asia as an export-only territory – our scouts solely looking for shiny floor hits to bring to Europe?

The content quality/style is so alien to European production standards that content has to be re-packaged/developed for European consumption and consideration. It feels like we need more than one market a year – especially as the contingent from Asia was low at MIPCOM. How do we open this market up? Ideas on a postcard, I am afraid – no one seems to have figured this out yet.

Siobhan Crawford is co-founder at Glow Media and has worked in the format business for almost two decades at firms including DRG, Zodiak, Banijay and Primitives

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