Eyes on Asia

From twist-laden serialized drama to high-concept entertainment shows and intense competition series, the market for formats in Asia is busier than ever.

The scripted-formats business in Asia isn’t new—Korean and Latin American dramas have been remade across the region for years. But something is different this year, judging by the variety of dramas being adapted in Asia, and the markets they are being produced in. Look at Korea, the biggest exporter of drama in Asia; international shows being formatted there include BBC’s Mistresses and Doctor Foster. China, long an insular market, has made big bets on Endemol Shine’s Broadchurch and Humans. Japanese platforms in the last year have signed up for versions of Orphan Black and Suits. Even Singapore and Malaysia have gotten in on the scripted-format action, commissioning the first-ever Asian version of The Bridge.

“We’ve found that broadcasters are now willing to experiment with scripted formats in order to get access to writers, story developers and scripts that can be localized,” reports Rashmi Bajpai, executive director for Asia at Endemol Shine International.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen an increased demand for our scripted formats and we are engaging in a lot of conversations with players in the region,” agrees Haryaty Rahman, the senior VP of distribution for Asia, International, at Fremantle.

The surging demand for scripted formats is part of an overall expansion of the format business in Asia, with broadcasters and platforms opening up to a wider range of ideas.

“We have seen an inspiring atmosphere this year in the region in terms of co-productions and local adaptations of big international brand-name formats,” says Işil Türkşen, sales director for Asia at Global Agency. “There is also a taste for original ideas.”

Türkşen observes that “big shiny-floor formats are always in demand in the region—however, the channels are now looking for more edgy and different ideas. There is also a shift to game shows and reality formats.”

Andrew Sime, VP of formats at Banijay Rights, agrees that entertainment formats, in general, are faring well in the region. “Killer Karaoke has returned to Asia after a couple of years away,” Sime reports. “We’ve just licensed the show in Indonesia and expect it to return in Thailand next year. It’s a flexible studio-based show. In India, more cultural boundaries are being pushed with programs such as Dating in the Dark finding homes where they wouldn’t have done previously. It’s such a distinctive, fun show that it works well as a flagpole title that allows channels to stand out. It’s strippable and helps to reinforce a channel’s daily brand, which is something an increasing number of channels are looking for.”

Rahman says that Fremantle has had a “phenomenal year” with its portfolio of non-scripted formats, noting the company had 55 series on air in the first half of the year.

“Our shiny-floor entertainment talent shows such as Idols, Got Talent and The X Factor continue to do incredibly well across the region,” Rahman says. “The shows are highly successful and clients are renewing them for multiple seasons. In addition, we’re seeing the opportunities to bring these franchises to territories that have never done them before or bringing them back after a long hiatus. An example of this is Idol Philippines. The Idol format last aired in the Philippines over ten years ago and we’re excited to see it return to the country again and this time around on a different network, ABS-CBN, in 2019.”

Endemol Shine is also seeing strong traction on returning brands, with MasterChef commissioned for a fifth season in Indonesia and the renewal of Million Dollar Minute in Vietnam.

“Talent shows continue to garner interest in countries like India and most of Southeast Asia,” says Bajpai on what’s working well in the region. “Game shows are always welcomed by the broadcasters and we’ll be able to announce a few more deals soon. We’re thrilled with the success of MasterChef Singapore and Myanmar. Big Brother dominates our reality slate in India and the Philippines. What is important to note is that any format that offers sponsorship opportunities will be seen favorably by the client due to the growing loss of subscription revenues and therefore advertising revenues.”

Game shows have been one of the main categories for Talpa Global, according to Annelies Noest, director of formats and global network at the company, with recent commissions on Divided and 5 Gold Rings.

“Our talent format The Next Boy/Girl Band is also gaining a lot of traction in this region, reaching the hard-to-reach millennials and an even younger demo,” Noest says.

The other talent behemoth on Talpa’s slate is The Voice. “We recently closed a fantastic three-year deal with PPTV in Thailand for the entire The Voice franchise, bringing not only The Voice and The Voice Kids to PPTV, but also the latest addition to the brand, The Voice Senior,” Noest says. “In Indonesia, The Voice Kids has been renewed for a third season and has been scoring amazing ratings.”

Can Okan, founder and CEO of Inter Medya, says his company is eager to tap into interest in entertainment formats region-wide. “When we take into account the strength and domination of Korean formats in the region, we think that it’s an advantage for us to have studio shows with original tricks in our catalog,” he says, referencing the game shows Guess Who? and The Box ChallengeInteractive formats are also key, he notes, mentioning Join Instant. “We believe that among our various types of game-show formats, the ones that have interactive twists and technological mechanisms fit the audiences’ needs the most.”

Exploring opportunities in the digital space is a key growth area for many format distributors doing business in Asia. Sime notes that Banijay is “actively exploring” new developments with SVOD platforms in the region.

“We have strong relationships with players such as Amazon and Netflix in Europe and the U.S., and we’re already working to replicate those with the emerging Asian SVOD platforms,” he explains. “The region has a strong demographic of young, middle-class audiences that readily engage in both digital and mobile content. This makes the likes of interactive game shows such as All Against 1, which has its own app, more appealing. The increase in OTT platforms has also led to linear broadcasters now working harder than ever to develop, produce and acquire genre-defining programming to make their channels stand out in a crowded marketplace.”

Endemol Shine’s Bajpai says that the biggest trend affecting the industry is “finding ways to extend the viewing experience from traditional linear to nonlinear, including social media—i.e., spin-offs and extensions produced as additional content, the linear series being simulcast or even premiered on nonlinear, and repacking of the shows to provide an extended audience once the linear run has completed. Most broadcasters are eyeing the advertising revenue that’s now available on these platforms and finding ways to engage with what the audience wants to watch on these platforms.”

The consensus among format distributors heading to ATF is that opportunities are emerging everywhere in the region.

“Talpa is currently the number three player in the Asian format sales market, with 29 formats confirmed for 2018 so far, and counting,” Noest notes. “Format distribution volume almost tripled over the past three years, with Talpa shows reaching new markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Mongolia, to name a few. With our Asian headquarters in Hong Kong and recent expansions in the local production and sales team, Talpa has increased its focus on the region.”

One territory that has been particularly active in the last year is Thailand, Fremantle’s Rahman says. “Our X Factor and Got Talent formats are on air on Workpoint TV. Our Price is Right Thailand continues to be a hit on True4U, as is our Take Me Out Thailand, which has been on Ch3 for over ten seasons. Family Feud Thailand enters into its fifth season on one31 this year and we’re excited to grow our relationship with the channel with their recent acquisition of Thank God You’re Here Thailand for 2019.”

Thailand has also been a strong territory for Endemol Shine, alongside the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, Bajpai says. As for where she’d like to be doing more, she lists Indonesia, Myanmar and Mongolia.

India has been key for Global Agency, Türkşen reports, referencing interest across its lifestyle, reality, shiny-floor and scripted slate. “India is a very important market, with a large television audience both on the traditional and new-media platforms,” she explains. “Thailand, Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia are also always focus points. It would be great to see markets like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh open up to international adaptations of formats.”

For Talpa’s Noest, “Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are becoming more important, with an increased appetite for local content across the free-to-air channels and different OTT platforms. In other territories in Asia, we are also doing business and see great potential for our formats. India is also a very interesting market with lots of opportunities for great content.”

This year Banijay Group established Banijay Asia in India under the leadership of Deepak Dhar, which “triggered a clearer pipeline into the entertainment market there alongside [Banijay-owned] Sol Production,” Sime says. “The group has been able to focus attention on format sales, production and original IP development in India and has strengthened its position across the region. In the last 12 months, we have also succeeded in expanding into new territories, selling Psychic Challenge to Mongolia. Meanwhile, we continue to foster strong relationships in territories such as Indonesia, with the format sale of Killer Karaoke; Vietnam, where we have most recently sold Wonderkids; and South Korea, where we have been working with producers to acquire new formats.”

The potential for taking Asian concepts global is emerging as a growth area. Nippon TV, for example, is looking to replicate the success of its hit Dragons’ Den, which is represented worldwide by Sony Pictures Television.

Shigeko “Cindy” Chino, senior director of international business development at the leading Japanese broadcaster, notes, “Working together with international partners allows us to widen our perspectives and scrutinize our products from a global standpoint.”

Chino says that Nippon TV brings to the international market its understanding of the kinds of concepts that will work with audiences, given that it produces more than 90 percent of its programming slate. “Our creators are now set to exercise their creative expertise not only in our local market but internationally,” she says. Successes include its dramas being remade in Turkey and Korea and pickups in Thailand and Mongolia for its game show Silent Library.

Endemol Shine has taken on locally developed formats, such as The Society Game and Perfect on Paper from Korea and China’s The Nation’s Greatest Treasures from CCTV. “However, we see demand for imported formats outweighing the demand for local,” Bajpai says.

Sime says that Banijay Rights has been working with Japanese and Korean outfits “to find innovative new ideas with international potential. At MIPCOM we launched Yes, Let’s Discover the World, based on a comedy segment that aired on Nippon TV in Japan. Our Italian company DRY has also been working with South Korean broadcaster CJ ENM on a new entertainment format called Cooking Box.

Asia remains a “great launchpad for innovative content,” observes Talpa’s Noest, citing the use of AR in the Thai version of Dance Dance Dance. “We are known for bringing big, innovative content that’s more than just a TV format, but that activates and engages users across multiple touchpoints, while at the same time triggers new revenue streams. Given the large number of millennials in this region, we see big potential for our formats that engage these target groups.”

Pictured: Endemol Shine’s Humans in China.