Mansha Daswani looks at the demand for Asian drama both from within the region and across the globe.
The competition for the hottest new dramas out of Korea has reached fever pitch across Asia, as pay- and free-TV players, as well as OTT platforms, clamor for the latest ratings hit from the country’s prolific production sector. The Korean Wave shows no signs of abating; indeed, thanks to platforms like Netflix and DramaFever, Korean dramas are finding eager fans outside of the region, too. Though Korea certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on the Asian drama export scene. As the scripted content business booms everywhere, shows from Japan, India and the Philippines are also finding new audiences worldwide, from Turkey to Colombia, Albania to Nigeria.
“We believe that Asian drama is very strong and on par with Western drama,” observes Nixon Yau Lim, the head of the Asia Pacific at Eccho Rights, which has added Korean and Indian series to its extensive slate of European properties. “Asian stories can travel and will resonate with audiences around the world. There is already a huge cult following for Korean drama all across the U.S. Best of all, Asian dramas can be remade elsewhere in the world.”
SELLING THE SCRIPT
The Asian scripted-format business is undoubtedly heating up, boosted recently by the massive success of ABC’s version of the Korean hit The Good Doctor. Turkey, a prolific drama-export market in its own right, has produced a wave of Asian formats of late, among them Mother and Woman, both based on shows from Japan’s Nippon TV.
“Localized in Turkey by the amazing drama production company MF Yapim and MEDYAPIM, Mother reached the number one viewership rating position and a 25-percent share, leading to distribution in more than 12 other territories thus far,” says Shigeko “Cindy” Chino, the senior director of international business development at Nippon TV. “The adaptation of Woman in Turkey is now also obtaining wide recognition and stellar viewership.”
Chino says that Turkish and Japanese cultures share many common values, easing the adaptation process. “We are confident that the themes and values depicted in our dramas can be appreciated in other territories as well, and our fine drama team is always cooperative in making the international version a hit.”
Yau Lim at Eccho Rights confirms that interest in Asian formats is rising in Turkey, particularly for Korean series. “In the last couple of years we have seen an increasing number of adaptations as drama continues to boom in the country and the producers are constantly on the lookout for fresh inspiration,” he says. “As we all know, Turkish series are long while Asian series are a lot shorter. The challenge lies in how to adapt a relatively short series to a somewhat long series. Although in the hands of a very capable writer and producer, we believe the challenge can be overcome.”
Korea’s CJ E&M recently did a Turkish deal on its show Tears of Heaven, with Eccho Rights distributing the adaptation, Cennet. “We also have scripted option deals in the U.S. and Europe,” reports Jangho Seo, the general manager of the global content business division at the Korean heavyweight. “Currently we are working hard to prepare for scripted-format sales, making sales material and trailers.”
GMA Worldwide from the Philippines is also looking to drive its scripted-format business. Working with Latin Media Corporation, GMA Worldwide has sold the remake rights to seven of its dramas to Latin American production companies, according to Roxanne J. Barcelona, VP. “We are optimistic that in 2018 we can sustain and further grow the distribution of scripted formats, not only in Latin America but the Middle East as well,” Barcelona adds.
Japanese broadcaster and distributor TV Asahi is similarly keen to license its scripts. “We are finding that stories with strong characters tackling a universal social issue attract much interest,” says Motoko Nakai, director of the international business department at TV Asahi. “Our storytelling techniques not only do justice to serious issues but also incorporate comedic, cynical or sometimes farcical depictions that shed light on the human condition.”
TV Asahi has licensed A Family Goes Job Hunting into China, and Nakai says there’s been interest from other Asian markets in Hello, I Love You and Winter, Grasping Love. Asia has also been the dominant territory for TV Asahi’s finished drama sales, notably Korea, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Malaysia, Nakai says. “We are also increasing our focus on Thailand and India.”
For Nakai, the popularity of Japanese dramas outside of national borders is partly due to their narrative style, featuring “a quick unfolding of the stories. All of the characters are well developed, which also adds to the overall richness of the story. Since the storyline of each story is very clear, it is easy for viewers of any nationality to follow and understand what is being depicted.”
Medical and detective dramas dominate for TV Asahi, Nakai says, particularly procedurals, which are in high demand globally. “Also, as both medical and detective stories are not affected much by [the passage of] time, there is a strong demand for our archive series.”
Nippon TV will be at ATF with new offerings such as Caution, Hazardous Wife and Kiss That Kills, targeting buyers in its core markets of Taiwan, Korea and China. On why Nippon TV’s slate has been able to resonate in multiple markets, Chino explains, “We strategically produce drama series targeting different demographics, according to who is available on which day of the week. Wednesday prime-time dramas reach out to working women and mothers. Saturday evenings are family time, so the themes cater to children and adults alike. Our recently created Sunday evening drama slot was our proactive effort to reach out to men who can only enjoy dramas at that time of the week. As a result, Nippon TV has dramas appealing to every demographic and can provide a wide selection to our overseas audience.”
Contemporary series focused on women are the top sellers for Nippon TV, Chino adds.
SURFING THE WAVE
“Asia is our foremost market for finished content,” says Seo at CJ E&M. “Throughout Asia, we have a strong fan base thanks to the Korean Wave and their love for Korean drama stories and stars. New markets to open are definitely territories such as the Middle East and Central Asia. We believe that we have a high chance of success due to our similar cultures and values.”
According to Seo, CJ E&M’s best sellers traditionally have been love stories, but fantasy elements have been striking a chord with viewers recently. The company is touting a diverse portfolio this ATF, including Prison Playbook, from the same team behind the hit Reply trilogy. There’s also a crime thriller in the mix, with Bad Guys: Vile City; the romantic fantasy A Korean Odyssey; and the black comedy-drama Avengers’ Social Club.
Filipino content has largely been faring well in neighboring Southeast Asian markets, as well as in Africa and North America, reports GMA Worldwide’s Barcelona. “We would like to see GMA dramas being broadcast in China and Eastern European countries,” Barcelona says.
“Our dramas are appealing as they focus on universal themes that the audience can easily relate to,” says Barcelona on what’s driving interest in GMA’s slate, which at ATF will include the fantasy drama Angela and the romantic comedy My Korean Jagiya. “Stories about family and romance always work well with the audience. In addition, some of GMA’s stars are already recognized and have fans in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia. Most of the dramas they appear in are in demand in those countries.”
Sunita Uchil, chief business officer for international ad sales, global syndication and production at Zee Entertainment Enterprises, expresses a similar sentiment about Indian serials. “Compelling storylines, glamour, costumes, songs and dances are all key factors that viewers prefer. For instance, in Indonesia, Indian TV stars are as popular as Bollywood movie stars.” She adds, “Family and romance dramas with complex and intriguing storylines continue to be our best sellers.”
Asia and Africa have been the primary markets for dramas from ABS-CBN Corporation, according to Maria Cecilia Imperial, the head of integrated program acquisitions and international sales and distribution at the company. “We would like to open up Latin America and Eastern Europe,” she says, adding that Filipino dramas travel well as they have qualities similar to both telenovelas and Korean serials.
Ramping up deals with OTT providers is one of Imperial’s key priorities for next year. GMA is also seeing greater interest from digital platforms. “We have received inquiries from buyers who only require digital rights,” Barcelona says. “Sales to these platforms are equally important, especially if the content is dubbed or subtitled in the local language. However, pay- and free-TV rights are still the main source of revenue for our business.”
But the landscape is changing, and distributors are keen to make sure they’re well positioned for the shifts still to come. “In the past few years, viewership on PCs and mobile devices has shown a dramatic increase in Asian countries,” says TV Asahi’s Nakai. “Especially in China, it has superseded TV and has become the main means of distribution. Thus, it has become more and more important for us to have the rights for digital platform distribution. In China, there is no interest in series that cannot be distributed digitally. The distribution fee also differs between content with or without digital rights. We recognize that it is crucial for us to gain those rights from the onset of production.”
Nippon TV’s Chino stresses the importance of drama to the leading Japanese broadcaster’s “multiplatform convergence strategy,” encompassing its linear feeds, on-demand and Hulu Japan. “For example, we can broadcast the first episode on the Nippon TV linear channel, and the following episodes can be streamed immediately on Hulu. This was the successful case in our remake of Red Arrow International’s original hit drama series The Last Cop, capturing attention on linear and new subscribers on Hulu.” Chino adds that Nippon TV has been able to expand further globally because of its OTT deals. “We have expanded in areas such as China, Korea and Taiwan as a result of new business with digital platforms.”
Pictured: CJ E&M’s Prison Playbook.