Asian Content’s Global Ambitions

Distributors from across Asia are opening new markets with their drama series.

Several Asian distributors will be setting up shop at the InterContinental in Los Angeles this week as they look to expand their businesses further in the Americas. Among them is CJ E&M, which is showcasing dramas such as Stranger and Live at the market. “Our in-house drama production [outfit] Studio Dragon is starting to increase its presence in the U.S.,” notes Jangho Seo, the general manager of the global content business at the Korean media giant. “Furthermore, with excellent creators and producers, we wish to be fruitful at the L.A. Screenings and make it an opportunity for our market advancement.”

ABS-CBN Corporation is also hoping for a successful L.A. Screenings, where it will be showcasing dramas such as The Good Son, The Blood Sisters and Asintado. “As a premier source of Filipino content for our non-Filipino viewers, this is a perfect way to share our products with more international buyers, especially in the Latin American territories,” says Macie F. Imperial, the head of ABS-CBN’s integrated program acquisitions and international distribution. “We already [placed] one foot in the door when Bridges of Love was greatly received in ***Image***Peru. We would like to keep the ball rolling and this market will be an extra boost for us.”

Indeed, several Asian scripted powerhouses are finding keen demand for their titles from Latin America. Roxanne Barcelona, VP of GMA Worldwide, a division of the Filipino broadcast group, notes, “GMA dramas are slowly breaking ground in Latin America. To date, seven drama formats were sold to Mexico and four canned dramas did very well in Peru and Ecuador.”

Latin America is also becoming a promising area for Indian dramas. Gurjeev Kapoor, the president of international business at Star India, says that the company is gaining traction in the region following the sale of Saras & Kumud to seven markets. “Saras & Kumud has driven viewership for our broadcast partners in leading markets like Chile and Peru,” he says. “Yours Truly, Paakhi is another show that has been received favorably in Peru. We are now looking at investing in dubbing a few of our key shows to derive maximum value.”

Sunita Uchil, the chief business officer for global syndication and production and international ad sales at Zee Entertainment Enterprises, has also found a host of opportunities in the region. “In most markets, we might tailor [the content] according to that particular audience and its customs,” says Uchil on the challenges of selling Indian drama worldwide. “There are many times we have to do a particular kind of editing on a season. We see Latin America as so close to what we have to offer, we can almost take our programs and just have them fit in there. You just have to choose the right ones—not the religious types of shows, but all the other ones. Today, a lot of Latin America is talking about women’s empowerment, hope, growth, giving them more power, more promise, and that’s exactly what the Zee India proposition is. It’s all about hope. That’s where we are when we’re producing new stories in India. Latin America should be another big market for us.”

Asian distributors have likely been inspired by their Turkish counterparts, who have had tremendous success in Latin America. Turkey itself, meanwhile, has become a microcosm of the present state of, and prospects for, Asian content exports. A bridge between two continents, Turkey has an incredibly prolific domestic programming infrastructure in its own right, so it’s not the most accessible market. But for Asian distributors, developments in Turkey are not only boding well for content exports beyond the Asia-Pacific region—they are also giving regional sellers a preview of what their businesses could look like in the years to come.

Turkish producers, eager to generate the next big hit, have been looking further afield for ideas, resulting in a number of Asian series being adapted in the market. Some of those local adaptations have gone on to sell well globally, as was the case with Mother, based on a Japanese drama. On the flip side, Turkish broadcasters looking to differentiate themselves have been acquiring foreign product to counterprogram against local series. Kanal 7, for example, saw its ratings soar off the back of the Indian romantic drama Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon.

“It broke many viewership records by quadrupling the channel ratings in that slot,” says Star India’s Kapoor. “This paved the way for many more Indian series on local Turkish television and Turkey continues to be a growth market for us.”

“Turkey has become our gateway to the regions we never reached before,” says Cindy Chino, the senior director of international business development at Nippon TV, rights holder of the previously mentioned Japanese drama Mother, which has also been adapted in Korea and is set for a Ukrainian version.

Scripted formats have become a major growth area for a number of Asian distributors, even as tape sales continue to dominate their businesses. “Our two pillars are animation tape sales and formats, both scripted and non-scripted,” Chino says, adding, “The demand for scripted is accelerating this past year and opening up new opportunities for us.”

Zee’s Uchil mentions Lala’s Ladiez, which is based on the classic Indian serial Hum Paanch. “Kulvinder Ghir of Goodness Gracious Me [a BBC comedy that aired in the ’90s] is Mr. Lala and he has five daughters, each one of them unique in their own way. His wife is English. So it’s an Indo-British sitcom. We’re very happy about that because it’s an original produced in the U.K. by Endemol Shine. We are hoping to get some traction with it.”

TV Asahi is exploring the scripted format sector as well, says Motoko Nakai, director of the international business department. “Japanese drama series are typically short with approximately ten episodes per season and only a few are produced for several seasons. However, the themes portrayed, the quality of the storytelling and character depictions are exceptional and distinctive and we are finding that most scripts can be further developed into longer series.”

Nakai adds, “Stories with strong characters tackling universal socio-political issues attract much interest. Our storytelling techniques not only elucidate the prevailing social issues but also incorporate comedic, cynical or provocative methods to shed light on the human condition. Several Asian countries that are interested in boosting their own drama productions are eyeing our scripts, but we are also in discussions with North American and Turkish producers.”

Star India’s Kapoor identifies format sales as being “key to driving the next level of growth for the business. They allow good stories to root themselves in the local and cultural context and successfully drive relevance and viewership. There is a lot of interest in many of our shows for local adaptations.”

As they expand further globally, distributors from across Asia are also maintaining their strong content-sales businesses within the region. “China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea have a high demand for Japanese dramas,” says TV Asahi’s Nakai. “Doctors and police forces exist in all countries, which is a factor that makes our dramas travel well internationally.”

“We plan to grow our global distribution business, exceeding what we have already achieved in the past two decades, having sold over 40,000 hours of content,” says ABS-CBN’s Imperial on her international goals. “We will also maintain our presence on the VOD platforms and will continue to aggressively distribute our movies and television series on these. We are also very open to international co-production partnerships. We believe that there is so much global potential in Filipino talent and we are keen on crossing over to the international arena, showcasing our talent and content to the world.”

For GMA Worldwide, on the heels of a prosperous 2017 that saw it crack new territories like Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Indonesia and Ghana, further global expansion is critical. “We constantly try to add more territories to our portfolio of clients,” says Barcelona. “Our goal is to make GMA the premier source of Filipino content and scripted dramas.  Of course, some territories are harder to penetrate than others, but our goal is to get Filipino content to as many territories as possible. This is a never-ending process that makes the international distribution of Filipino content very challenging.”

Ultimately, says Star India’s Kapoor, “good storytelling can traverse borders,” which bodes well for Asian distributors eager to make an impact on the global content stage.