Asian Spin

From talent competitions to factual entertainment to scripted dramas, the demand for formats is booming across Asia. 

In the last year, India has become a hotbed of scripted format adaptations, with deals announced on Doctor Foster, Luther, Hostages, UnREAL and Fauda, among many others, driven in large part by digital platforms clamoring to produce distinctive originals that will cut through in an exceptionally crowded market. And while India is arguably the best territory for drama and comedy formats in Asia at present, it certainly isn’t the only one creating a wealth of new opportunities for distributors.

“As local dramas increase in quality and quantity, there is a demand for great scripts from established, recognized writers,” notes Sabrina Duguet, executive VP for the Asia Pacific at all3media international, which has secured deals for Liar to be adapted in India and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries in China. “Scripted formats adaptations give broadcasters a unique opportunity to produce successful programming for a local audience,” Duguet says.

At Global Agency, its successful Turkish drama Game of Silence is being remade in India for Star India. “Scripted is a greatly demanded product,” says Işıl Türkşen, the company’s sales director for Asia.

Nippon TV, meanwhile, which has had tremendous traction for its drama formats in Turkey, has seen a Thai version of Abandoned launch on LINE TV. Cindy Chino, associate managing director for international business development at the leading Japanese broadcaster, says she is finding greater interest from broadcasters for “scripted relationship shows.”

Game shows and talent competitions, however, do still dominate AsiaPac’s format business, but distributors are seeing clients open up to new entertainment genres.

“While fun, physical entertainment shows will always be a staple in Asian programming, I believe broadcasters are looking for family viewing formats that address everyday life in an authentic and uplifting way,” reports Samia Moktar, sales manager at Banijay Rights. Recent deals include a pickup in Myanmar for Don’t Forget the Lyrics! by Forever Group. “After the worldwide success of Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, we are very excited to see the format enter a new country and work with a production company that is already behind some very successful productions in the region,” Moktar reports.

In addition, Tencent in China is working on its own version of The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds, which recently rolled out in Japan and Mongolia.

Duguet at all3media observes that while traditional studio-based formats are driving the business in Asia at present (such as its own Face the Clock rolling out on HTV7 in Vietnam), “We are seeing a shift in terms of genre. We have noticed that broadcasters are becoming open to exploring new ideas, such as formats exploring social themes,” among them Optomen’s Employable Me and betty’s The Undateables.

“Audiences still want something light, fun and entertaining and our popular formats deliver,” Duguet continues. “Game shows, studio formats, entertainment and talent shows still do well as they are easier to sponsor than other non-studio-based shows.”

Global Agency’s game-show format Upgrade has been faring well on Voot in India, Türkşen reports, adding she has strong expectations for Asian traction on the talent format The Legend following its launch in MENA. “We also have other partnerships with different producers and broadcasters in India at the moment. For instance, Banijay Asia is currently working on five of our formats to be localized and commissioned and we also closed a package deal on four other formats with IFA India.

“Studio-based game shows, singing and talent formats are still high in demand in the region,” Türkşen continues.

A key focus for Nippon TV this ATF will be the game-show format Block Out, which has rolled out in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. “The news that we have made a successful launch of our game-show format Block Out has spread to catch accelerating interest from the Western territories as well,” says Chino.

Indeed, Asian formats are seeing new traction in North America and Western Europe following the success of The Masked Singer on FOX in the U.S. and a slew of other international markets.

“Good, solid, well-performing formats can originate from any territory,” says Banijay’s Moktar. “In the past three years, we’ve worked primarily with South Korean producers and channels and the results have been very positive. We adapted an SBS show called Fantastic Duo in Europe and then entered into a co-development deal on a show that was a great success on their channel, Fan Wars.”

Moktar continues, “We are constantly looking at Asia, beyond South Korea, for interesting content and, very often, we do pick up shows that can be part of or become segments of bigger ones—particularly in Europe—or others we can work on with the original producers.”

Duguet says that all3media international is also open to working with producers in the region who have compelling pitches. “We are interested in taking on any quality ideas from around the world and with Asia being such a diverse and eclectic region, we have found some great ideas and concepts. We’ve been working closer than ever with local producers and broadcasters, making strategic collaborations and partnerships that we hope to announce soon.”

“A lot of producers and channels have been working on original content and coming up with new and fresh ideas in formats,” says Global Agency’s Türkşen. “Some of these have been successful, some have failed—which is always OK as it is part of the process of trying new ideas! Asian markets are now more open to cooperate internationally on the distribution of their original ideas, and Global Agency has established such cooperation already with key players such as SBS in South Korea, ABC in Japan and NTV in Japan. We will focus more on building our network in this direction. Our latest highlight is our cooperation with SBS, where we will take ten of their scripted formats to Turkish producers and we will then distribute the Turkish remakes worldwide.”

The Global Agency catalog also includes The Remix, an Amazon Prime Video original in India that was up for an International Emmy Award this year.

Türkşen adds, “We are always open to new and fresh ideas and Asia is currently the source of these. We are happy to connect Asian content with international buyers and open up more opportunities for the new ideas.”

Of course, driving new business will be the main priority for distributors at ATF, as they seek to build on gains they’ve already made and open new territories.

“China is a very active territory at the moment,” says Moktar at Banijay Rights. “Finding an agreement on ways that channels can own elements of the distributor’s format within the territory has made the market very responsive and opened up many opportunities for distributors and production companies and channels alike. Japan is somewhere I would like to see more movement in. Banijay Rights works very well with many channels in Japan on finished tape sales, and following the success of the one-off episode of The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, it would be great to see a full series on-screen there.”

Japan is also on Türkşen’s wish list, as is continued expansion in India. “Southeast Asia has had a relatively conservative year compared to previous years, but as always, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are also among our targets,” she says. “We hope to reach more viewers by having more of our formats broadcast across the region.”

“We’re always identifying new opportunities for all3media international in Asia,” says Duguet. “We want to keep growing our scripted business—we have over 25 dramas launching next year, a mixture of brand-new and returners, all ripe for adaptation. We’re enthused by the market opening up to new genres, becoming more edgy and daring but also more caring. It’s exciting to see that the region is willing to take risks to attract audiences.”