Asian storytelling is in the spotlight as the region’s dramas find fans across the globe.
Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos made a splash in Singapore earlier this month as they unveiled 17 new original productions from Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, India and South Korea.
“Asia is home to the world’s great creative centers producing some of the most compelling films and series of today,” said Sarandos, chief content officer, at the streamer’s first-ever content showcase in the region. “The beauty of Netflix is that we can take never-seen-before stories from South Korea, Thailand, Japan, India, Taiwan or elsewhere, and easily connect them to people all over Asia and the world. More than half of Asian content hours viewed on Netflix this year are viewed outside the region, so we have confidence that our upcoming slate of Asian productions will find fans in their home countries and abroad.”
Netflix certainly has raised the bar for original scripted in Asia, but it’s not the only game in town. The likes of HOOQ, iflix and Viu are making waves pan-regionally, as is HBO Asia with properties like the horror anthology Folklore and the Indonesian thriller Grisse. Elsewhere in the pan-regional space, FOX Networks Group Asia has been investing heavily in Mandarin-language scripted, recently picking up the worldwide rights, outside of China, for the period drama series The Legend of Hao Lan from Huanyu Film.
“Staying on top in the entertainment industry means constantly listening to what consumers want, and we have seen again and again that viewers today are voracious for the most exciting and dramatic Chinese series,” said Cora Yim, the senior VP and head of Chinese entertainment at FOX Networks Group Asia, in announcing the agreement at MIPCOM.
“Our strategy is inspired by the FX network series production model, where success comes from developing relationships with the best creative talent,” Yim says. “In terms of original Chinese content collaborations, we also strive to partner with the best talent, top filmmakers and producers to create premium content. We also see this strategy as empowering storytelling and taking our relationships to the next level. The recent expansion of Fox Creative Lab to Taiwan is helping us create a pipeline of 360-degree creative talent for FOX in Asia. As well, it enables us to increase the diversity of ideas in the region’s film and TV industry, providing a platform for up-and-coming talent hailing from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and beyond. Working collaboratively to groom new talent in front of and behind the camera is also helping FOX Networks Group Asia to spearhead an evolving trend we’ve been witnessing for the past few years, in which entertainment from the East is reaching new viewers in the West.”
Turner Asia Pacific is also stepping up its regional scripted efforts, sealing a multi-year pact with mm2 Asia that includes the film Killer Not Stupid, from the multimillion-dollar box-office director Jack Neo. “We are [also] discussing a TV drama with a Taiwanese producer, based on an award-winning script,” notes Marianne Lee, VP of content for general entertainment.
Meanwhile, broadcasters and distributors in the Philippines, Korea and India are finding a slew of additional opportunities to license their drama series, produced for their local markets, within the region and across the globe.
RIDING THE WAVE
Korea remains the region’s biggest licensor of drama, with CJ ENM among those leading the charge. “CJ ENM introduces three to five new dramas every month, and the diversity and competency of the lineup leads to their popularity throughout Asia,” says Linda Lee, head of global content marketing at the Korean conglomerate, which arrives at ATF with highlights such as Encounter, Quiz from God: Reboot and Priest. “The Asian territory is one of the most important markets for CJ ENM. The new markets we wish to [enter are in] Europe. We believe we have potential there with both our finished shows and scripted formats.”
GMA Worldwide in the Philippines is also finding interest in its scripted-format slate, according to VP Roxanne J. Barcelona.
“We have received inquiries for drama formats from production companies in Korea, India, the Middle East and Thailand and we hope to unlock new territories through format sales in the future,” she says, adding, “Scripted format sales are doing well in Latin America.”
In terms of finished programs, meanwhile, Barcelona cites Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa as key territories. “We are slowly opening up Europe, Central Asia and China.”
For fellow Filipino media group ABS-CBN Corporation, Asia and Africa have been the strongest markets for drama sales, according to Macie F. Imperial, VP/head of integrated acquisitions and international sales. “We are aggressively strengthening our ties with the Latin American and European markets. We are also actively pursuing countries like China and Korea. We are hoping that we will have a strong foothold in these big markets soon.”
Imperial adds that ABS-CBN has become active in the format-sales sector, previously licensing The Two of Us to Cambodia and The Promise to Mexico. “We are in talks with our partners in Asia and the Middle East for format adaptations of our dramas,” Imperial says.
PASSAGE FROM INDIA
Dramas from India have been steadily expanding their reach worldwide over the last few years. Debkumar Dasgupta, senior VP and business head of syndication and digital at Viacom18/Indiacast, says his company’s shows have reached Central and Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Americas, among other markets. “We are looking at introducing our series in China, the Philippines and Japan,” he says.
One Life Studios cracked the Japanese market this year when it licensed its period epic Porus to Hulu Japan. “Now we are aiming to venture into the Latin American market and also Africa,” reports Siddharth Kumar Tewary, founder and chief creative officer at the Indian distribution house.
Digital platforms are beginning to create new opportunities for distributors, but the executives surveyed here note that there are challenges in working with on-demand services.
“Indian dramas are typically long-running, airing for many years,” Dasgupta says. “Digital platforms are looking at shorter series. We have syndicated our series to digital platforms geo-blocked to a specific territory. We are now awaiting the feedback on the performance of the series.”
For ABS-CBN’s Imperial, “Digital platforms have created a dynamic business environment for our drama distribution. It has led us to reexamine our operations to be able to supply the demands of this emerging digital trend.”
GMA’s Barcelona notes that digital platforms often prefer different kinds of dramas than the ones sought out by linear services. “We find that heavy dramas are preferred by free TV while the romantic comedies are preferred by the pay and OTT markets.”
Barcelona has also observed a willingness for “new, even risqué drama storylines,” such as the one in Silent Shadow about a transgender woman.
Regardless of platform, compelling storytelling will travel, One Life’s Tewary says. “Today, language is not a barrier—if the content is good, it travels globally. Indian dramas are very family oriented and high on drama, which is something that travels all around the world.”
“Our shows capture the celebrations, the trials and tribulations and the joys of our culture well,” says Viacom18’s Dasgupta. “While our content is symbolic of the core culture and diversity of India, our approach has always been global.”
Pictured: ABS-CBN’s Now & Forever.