Yuka Kakui, TV Asahi’s head of format development and sales in the international business department, shares her view on what makes Japanese formats entertaining and unique within the international marketplace.
For 17 years, Beat the Champions has aired as a biannual event in Japan. The show has become a must-watch for Japanese viewers of all ages, and the format has traveled widely, thanks to TV Asahi.
The sports entertainment show features celebrities and amateurs challenging world-class athletes at their own sports. The amateurs are given advantages at different stages that push the athletes to up their game. FOX in the U.S. has aired a localized version of the Japanese hit, which has also been optioned in the U.K., France and Italy.
Beat the Champions is but one example of the “big and loud” entertainment and game shows that TV Asahi has seen success with as formats in the global market. The company’s slate also features Ranking the Stars, a talk show that has been sold to more than ten countries and has been licensed in the Netherlands for ten consecutive years, and 31 Legged Race, a running competition for kids that has been broadcast in Thailand for 12 years and also localized in the U.K., China and Vietnam. “We are confident that both adaptations will continue to be long-running shows for years to come,” says Yuka Kakui, TV Asahi’s head of format development and sales in the international business department. “We are currently exploring and gaining positive feedback on rolling out these two titles in their respective neighboring territories.”
Last MIPCOM, TV Asahi launched Hide-and-Seek with Drones, which “is increasingly becoming one of our popular titles,” says Kakui. “It has been sold in the U.S. and we are currently in discussions with several territories in Europe regarding sales in the region. Japan is known for its high tech, and we often handle such technology in our shows. I believe we will be seeing an increasing number of treatments. The beauty of Hide-and-Seek with Droneslies in the premise of trying to improve the simple worldwide kids’ game of hide-and-seek using the latest technology. It’s merging the old and the new, the simple and the complex, and I think that is what draws people to the show.”
Kakui says that in terms of quality and strength, “we believe Japanese formats definitely stand out as one of the top performers.” She adds, “Many shows have inspired the world to see that purely fun ideas can work without having to be overly sensational or dramatic. As a historic country with a long and rich tradition in various forms of entertainment, and the fact that Japanese television rarely has repeats of past programs, Japanese creators are constantly searching for the next idea that strikes a chord with the audience. Such active breeding ground for entertainment allows us to be one of the [prolific] producers and trailblazers in the industry.”
Regarding what it is that buyers are looking for nowadays, Kakui says the phrase “something loud” is one she hears a lot. She also says that requests are constantly changing with the times and needs. “At TV Asahi, we recognize that the more successful companies market formats in an effective and efficient manner such as by collaborating constructively and creatively with international producers, distributors and broadcasters, and we would like to get more into that space as well.”
TV Asahi recently released a new sports entertainment format, vs KIDS, which pits a former top professional against a kid champion of the same field. “You would think that the former top professionals would have the upper hand, but amazingly the opposite is often true, and the kid champions give the ex-pros an excruciatingly hard time in a serious match with real competition rules,” Kakui says. “The sports we have covered so far include swimming, gymnastics, table tennis, wrestling, archery, free climbing, soccer, badminton, snowboarding, tennis and bowling. There are also other categories such as games (Othello, yo-yo, escape games), intelligence (mental arithmetic, memorization), music and cooking. We are also working on a new factual format to bring to MIPCOM.”
Other recent format launches for the company include Experts Visiting Experts, a hit prime-time program that sees professionals from a certain field visit their counterparts in a foreign country and make new discoveries, and The 3 Family 3 Day Challenge, a game in which families must complete three challenges within three days in order to gain the chance to win a cash prize. “Both titles were received well at MIPTV, and we are in discussions with companies regarding international distribution and adaptations,” says Kakui.
Moving forward, scripted formats are going to be more of a focus, she adds. “TV Asahi currently houses the number one-rated drama series, Doctor-X, and we also have several shows that boast strong fan followings, especially our detective and medical series. In addition, our titles such as Family Fortune War, Hello, I Love You, A Family Goes Job Hunting and Age Harassment all focus on protagonists who face imminent social issues that have global appeal.”