Endemol Shine’s Rashmi Bajpai Talks Asian Format Trends

Rashmi Bajpai, executive director for Asia at Endemol Shine International, tells TV Formats about how the recent restructure positions the company for future gains in the region.

Last year, Endemol Shine Group announced it was restructuring its operations in Asia. The new organization combines format and finished-program sales and moves all production operations out of the Singapore regional headquarters.

“With the television marketplace becoming ever more global, it made sense to play to our strengths by focusing on our long-established production operations around the region to serve our Asian clients, rather than producing out of Singapore,” Rashmi Bajpai, executive director for Asia, tells TV Formats Weekly. As such, Endemol Shine is upping its use of shared production hubs in the region, Bajpai notes, “given these allow us to deliver world-class production value within budgets scaled to fit different-sized markets.”

The move has also allowed the company to shift its Singapore resources to ramping up its format-sales business, says Bajpai, who oversees sales teams in Mumbai and Singapore and reports to Matt Creasey, Endemol Shine International’s executive VP of sales and acquisitions for the Americas, Asia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as to CEO Cathy Payne.

“With our aim now on format licensing as opposed to production, this allows us to focus all of our efforts in key markets for not only formats but also finished programs,” Bajpai says. “It makes the relationships simpler and more succinct being that we also hold the finished program rights to the formats that we license.”

On the formats side, Bajpai notes that the wish lists of Asian broadcasters differ significantly from market to market; in the Philippines and Thailand, for example, aspirational lifestyle and fashion are in demand, while in Korea there’s interest in scripted formats. Megabrands like MasterChef and Big Brother, however, are universally sought after across Asia.

One of the significant trends in the region, Bajpai continues, is that linear free-to-air networks are “increasingly reliant on rural and older viewers for ratings, as urban, younger audiences are moving to digital platforms. Hence, their programming needs are more local, have mass appeal and are drama-driven. As a result, there’s a reduced appetite overall for foreign content and a surge in demand for regional and local content.”

Acquisition budgets at the free-to-air broadcasters in key Southeast Asian markets are also taking a hit, Bajpai notes, as they face advertising cutbacks. “As a result, for formats, it’s more often the shows with the biggest brands that garner attention and advertiser interest, while smaller shows tend to be done in-house locally, on a bespoke basis for clients. Especially with the more mature broadcasters, the priority is for in-house IP development, ownership and control, particularly in Korea and Malaysia.”

With rising demand for local and regional drama, Bajpai and her team are pursuing scripted-format opportunities across Asia. Recently, the company sealed its first format deal in the region for The Bridge. “The Bridge is not a drama that would usually resonate with Asian viewers. Our new adaptation in Asia takes the original premise of the series and will make it unique for the local audience. Set in both Malaysia and Singapore, the series will appeal to the diverse array of people, cuisines and ethnicities that call this area home, highlighting both the diversity and similarity between the two countries. This will affect every aspect of the series, with both sides speaking local languages. Casting will also take these distinctions into consideration.”

More scripted adaptations for Endemol Shine in Asia are in the works, Bajpai says. “Part of the reason for the growth in [scripted] formats is due to the [difficulties] in finding good writers. In Korea, top writers have become more expensive and demanding, and in Malaysia, writers are paid too little. So shortened development timeframes, faster turnaround, proven storylines and branding pedigree are some of the reasons why broadcasters are considering scripted formats.”

There are challenges, though, Bajpai cautions, notably low production budgets in some markets (a Malay drama, for example, generally has a budget of about $10,000 per episode).

Another recent development for Endemol Shine in Asia is the growing business with OTT operators. “In some cases, OTTs are paying just as much as linear broadcasters, especially in India and Japan. They have a steady revenue stream and are able to acquire programming that would not pass censorship on linear channels.”

Bajpai says that Endemol Shine is approaching the OTT landscape “with cautious optimism,” noting that the company won’t engage in revenue-share deals, only straight licensing agreements. “Not all OTT platforms are making money. To move forward, we need to keep a good balance between the traditional and OTT services.”

The OTT platforms, SVOD and AVOD, as well as pirate sites, “are directly impacting our traditional clients: free and pay-TV broadcasters, especially among youth and urban demos, competing directly for programming rights, viewership and advertising budgets,” Bajpai notes. “The pace will only speed up, as players like Facebook are getting more aggressive with their move into the broadcast business, bidding for EPL rights in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. On the upside, these new digital entrants have created more sales opportunities—i.e. more customers, different content needs—with SVOD platforms creating a market for content that would not typically be acquired by free-to-airs, for example, less-mainstream scripted drama, more niche or risqué content.”

With Netflix taking the lead, OTT operators are also stepping up original programming initiatives, such as Viu with The Bridge. “We’re likely to see unscripted adaptation down the road as well.” Online platforms, among them YouTube, are also driving demand for sponsor-funded content. “With many production companies and broadcasters moving into this space, brands themselves have started entering the game. Jollibee, a major TV sponsor in the Philippines, had their Valentine’s Day special clips go viral, sparking debate in the local media about why they should continue to invest their budgets on mainstream TV when they can go direct for a fraction of the cost. In Korea and the Philippines, there’s been a boom in web dramas (10 to 20 minutes in length) funded by product placement, with broadcasters like TV5 and JTBC setting up digital studios dedicated to producing web content.”