Formats Rising

Grandpas-over-FlowerAsian broadcasters are taking bigger bets on format concepts as they seek out local hits.

Another year, another set of restrictions on the Chinese format market. The latest, announced in June, were introduced in order to encourage local creativity, according to Chinese regulators. “Only self-innovated TV programs with Chinese cultural inheritance and characteristics can better carry the Chinese Dream themes, the socialist core values, as well as patriotism and Chinese fine traditions,” the notice from China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said this summer. “The reliance on imported program formats has been squeezing out the creative incentive of domestic producers and broadcasters. Audiences are craving more Chinese original programs that are fun to watch and feature healthy tastes.”

But format distributors don’t seem any less bullish on opportunities in the market than they were a year ago. In a recent interview with TV Formats, formats titan John de Mol, the founder of Talpa Media, said, “The U.S. is our biggest and most important market, although China is very close…. I’m curious to see when, for us, China becomes a bigger market than the U.S.”

And Talpa Media is not the only company still finding routes into China. “Last year was our best year ever in China,” says Sabrina Duguet, executive VP for the Asia Pacific at all3media International. “It’s true that this year the regulations have slowed things down a little, but my clients are still looking for great ideas and great programs. At Shanghai TV Festival people were very concerned. Now it’s nearly back to business as usual.”

Duguet heads up all3media International’s newly established Asian headquarters in Singapore, from which she aims to capitalize on the vibrant business the company has already set up in the region.

The format sector in Asia does appear to be going from strength to strength, with a broad range of genres finding homes across the landscape.

“With the trend towards more local productions and local versions of top global formats, we’ve certainly seen a rise in our format business,” reports Haryaty Rahman, the senior VP of sales and distribution for Asia at FremantleMedia International. “There has been a lot of exciting news this year. All our big talent shows, such as Idols and Got Talent in Cambodia, Myanmar and Mongolia, have been successfully renewed. We also began selling formats into Thailand and spearheading the pan-regional Asia format sales following an internal restructure, and have already had a lot of interest just two months in. In 2017, viewers in Thailand will be able to see new local launches of our new dating format out of Israel, Hear Me. Love Me. See Me., and Small Talk. We’re also currently in talks with a number of networks to launch pan-regional versions of our big formats in 2017.”

For Jangho Seo, general manager of the global content business division at Korean conglomerate CJ E&M, the most significant development in the last year has been “the increased awareness of the importance of the format business in Asia. Korea, Japan and China are leading the format business, but many other Asian countries have begun to take formats into consideration.”

Recent deals for the company have included I Can See Your Voice being licensed and aired in Thailand, China and Indonesia. “Also, we’ve licensed the format to Vietnam and are currently in talks in the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia. We’ve also licensed our total makeover show Let Me In to Thailand and are excited to announce that a second season is confirmed.”

Gary Pudney, the head of Asia at Keshet International (KI), lists three transformative factors for his business over the last 12 months: “the opening of more markets within the region, further local development of formats being taken to the international market, and the recently announced restrictions on the sale of international formats to Chinese companies.”

The company has found traction with both scripted and unscripted formats in the region, Pudney notes. On the non-scripted end, an Indian deal is in place with Viacom18 on Rising Star, which has also been renewed in Indonesia on RCTI. The Indonesian broadcaster also licensed Who’s on Top? In China, the branded-entertainment car game show Trade Up was sold to CCTV 2, and Beijing Satellite TV and Yunnan TV have ordered a second season of Master Class. In emerging markets, Cambodia’s Bayon Radio and Television is adapting BOOM! and TTN Media Corporation in Vietnam licensed Master Class. In terms of scripted formats, meanwhile, the biggest news for Keshet International over the last few months in Asia was Star Plus India opting for Prisoners of War. The series premiered in November.

Scripted formats is a key area of growth for GMA Worldwide, which has built a strong business licensing its Filipino dramas across the region.

“Earlier in the year, we sold the format rights of Losing Heaven to a broadcaster in Vietnam,” says Roxanne J. Barcelona, the VP of GMA Worldwide. “Currently, we are negotiating the acquisition of at least two drama formats for Vietnam. In addition, we are in discussion with our Thai client for a package of canned drama programs and at least one drama format.”

For Barcelona, the biggest challenge in selling Filipino scripts is “competing against more popular formats from South Korea and low-cost scripts from India. However, there are also opportunities arising as some of our clients in Cambodia and Vietnam have started producing local content and are looking for scripts that can be easily adapted. There are also opportunities in countries with strict government policies regarding acquiring canned foreign content. Clients in such countries are more open to acquiring scripted formats.”

While scripted is picking up interest, entertainment formats still dominate the format activity in the region.

“Shiny prime-time entertainment shows continue to be hot properties,” reports Gepke Nederlof, the head of global sales at Talpa Global. Among them is the massive worldwide hit The Voice, which has clinched a new deal in Singapore and Malaysia and is already present across Asia.

“But we also see that our clients in Asia are acquiring content more strategically than ever before. With the television landscape changing rapidly, creating experiences across multiple platforms is becoming increasingly important. For Talpa, it’s key for the rollout of our formats that the entire commercial value chain is activated—from TV to events to social to digital and more. The Next Boy/Girl Band is a fantastic example, offering dedicated exclusive content per platform, focusing on the demographics of its users (and their specific age group) to ensure the hard-to-reach millennials are engaged without losing the traditionals, all the while turning viewers into fans. Our newest game show (co-created with Possessed TV and ITV), 5 Golden Rings, also offers connected experiences to its viewers.”

Nederlof adds, “Smaller reality shows with touching and honest elements such as The Wishing Tree and The Story of My Life are also creating a buzz in Asia.”

At CJ, studio-based talent competition shows continue to do solid business for the company, Seo notes. “The Asian audience is very trendy, and it is a highly adaptable market, so we believe other genres such as game shows and factual-entertainment formats may work as well.”

The diversity in the types of formats being acquired in the region is reflective of the fact that broadcasters “are taking much more risk than they’ve taken in the past,” all3media’s Duguet reports. “We don’t have any talent shows currently in the catalog, that’s not our specialization, and a few years ago that was probably what was working best. Now a lot of countries are willing to try [something different]. We’ve managed to make a great success out of Undercover Boss Japan, which for me was the unlikeliest place to do it in Asia. It shows they’re willing to try something new, take some risks. What we are most well known for is factual entertainment, and we do also have game shows. Are You Normal? was a big hit in China, we’re doing it in Vietnam, a second series is coming up, and it’s pending in other territories. Cash Cab has traveled. Recently, interest has grown in the factual-entertainment space. Undercover Boss’s success in Japan has opened new doors. Gogglebox has been created in 36 territories [worldwide], including Mongolia. We are in discussions with several territories in Asia at the moment.”

A new area for all3media in Asia is constructed reality, which has been a huge success for the company in many European markets. “We are the largest producer and distributor of constructed reality globally, with 15,000 hours of [local versions and adaptations] worldwide. We have around 15 constructed-reality formats in our catalog. Out of them, a number are extremely suitable for Asia and are being discussed at the moment. We have so many scripts available, a lot are closed-ended, with a different story every day, so if some of the scripts are not suitable for cultural reasons, that’s fine because we have over 1,000 scripts for the same format. For Asia, the reason I’m excited is many countries love and produce a lot of drama and scripted content; they also broadcast some reality programming. So [we can offer] a hybrid, taking the best of drama and the best of reality.”

Duguet is also eyeing opportunities in the branded-entertainment space in Asia, and is looking at creating alliances with producers in this part of the world (where all3media does not currently own any production assets). “We can make the life of the broadcasters easier by coming to them with a great format, some funding and an option for [them] to produce it,” she explains.

The company is also on the lookout for potential format concepts out of Asia, backing the ATF Formats Pitch this December. “We want to find great content creators and use the strengths of the group, all of our production companies, to work on great ideas and take them to market. Now it’s not just the West to the rest of the world—great ideas can come from anywhere.”

CJ’s Seo is upbeat about how Asian content creators have the potential to reshape the global format market. The company is coming off the summer ratings success of Better Late Than Never, the U.S. version of its Grandpas Over Flowers format on NBC. It also recently partnered with Endemol Shine Group to co-create a new concept, The Society Game.

“Korea, with its creative and high-quality contents, will continue to bring new and fresh ideas to the international market,” Seo notes. “Japan, as the Country of Honour at MIPCOM 2016, unveiled a number of new formats that are tailored to an international audience.”

Seo sees many more positive developments for the Asian formats business in 2017. “The Asian market is characterized by its fast pace and the rise of new platforms and players changing the media landscape. I believe a plethora of opportunity exists in the Indian market, which is slowly gaining recognition in the formats industry. Though it may take time, I believe India is a very attractive market for us to enter into and we hope to meet with various partners in India and start working on a few projects in 2017.”

Pudney, too, is feeling upbeat about Keshet’s format prospects in Asia next year. “There is a growing, voracious appetite for content in Asia, particularly through digital/mobile interaction with their favorite entertainment, which underpins this growth. KI Asia will look to capitalize on [that] explosion while leveraging this for content consumption. Further growth opportunities are in working with strategic partners to locally develop content for the Asian and international markets and in using Keshet International’s global resources.”

Pictured: CJ E&M’s Grandpas Over Flowers.