NHK Enterprises Delivers Formats with “Warmth & Compassion”

Hisako Fujioka, executive sales manager of content distribution for NHK Enterprises, talks to TV Formats about how the company has found solid business in selling format rights for local remakes.

Taking hits from Japan’s NHK, and elsewhere, and turning them into international successes, NHK Enterprises has found solid business in selling format rights for local remakes. Among its most recent sales is NHK’s makeover format Cinderella Network, which launched with a local version in November on MNTV in Myanmar.

Cinderella Network is a new type of lifestyle and makeover show that connects people—young ‘Cinderellas’ across the country—online with a live studio,” explains Hisako Fujioka, executive sales manager of content distribution for NHK Enterprises. “Influential YouTubers of the same generation are invited to the studio to share their practical tips, tailored for each individual participant. This is the first time MNTV is adapting a Japanese format, and the launch has helped put smiles on the participants as well as the production teams from both Myanmar and Japan.”

As COVID-19-related risks continue to linger around production processes, buyers are turning to “formats that do not require a large studio audience, heavy interaction between the presenters and contributors, or a large crew and prolonged filming on location, to avoid infection risks,” Fujioka says.

Most of NHK Enterprises’ current lineup comprises studio-based formats that require no or limited audiences, but there is also an on-location documentary format that can be produced with a small crew in a short period of time, Fujioka says. “72 Hours is a compelling documentary that captures the real stories of ordinary people who come and go at a specific location during a 72-hour period. The series has proven hugely popular on NHK’s main channel since its release in 2006, running weekly with almost 300 episodes filmed. Tencent has successfully posted a Chinese version gaining nearing 300 million views in recent years. Thanks to the compact crew and the fixed-point observation filming style, we have been able to resume new production in Japan amidst COVID-19.”

Fujioka highlights the formats Chiko’s Challenge and The Late Night Show with Nitty & Gritty as ones that are suitable for production under the current working environment. Chiko’s Challenge, for one, is a co-viewing comedy show that challenges celebrities with child-like questions—which are often surprisingly difficult to answer. The quizmaster is an “eternal 5-year-old” character named Chiko, half CGI, half costume, with the voice of a famous male comedian. “Currently one of the biggest studio entertainment shows in Japan, it is a perfect program for the whole family to watch and have fun together at home during this time of uncertainty,” Fujioka adds.

The Late Night Show with Nitty & Gritty is going into its fifth season on NHK and generating significant social media buzz with each episode. The show celebrates underground and little-known-but-rumored ways of life through a candid talk show, using puppets. “People have their obsessions,” says Fujioka. “Many may not garner mainstream television coverage, but we often read about them on social media. From the incomprehensible ‘work’ hours of an online game addict and the secretive life of an ex-Yakuza to an unknown routine of an undercover researcher of the Michelin Guide, the series uses puppets as a way to free guests to speak their minds and shine a light onto the weird, the dark and the niche.” Fujioka calls it a “great program that will not only satisfy your curiosity but will open up your perspective, in a fun and heartwarming way.”

A key selling point for NHK Enterprises and its format slate is the track record established in the Japanese market. “They have proven to be very successful across all generations, including the young,” says Fujioka.

In Chiko’s Challenge, for example, a hybrid CGI and costume character interacts with the guest panel in the studio, which is “something very unique in a studio entertainment show,” Fujioka notes. “Though the incorporation of CGI may seem difficult and expensive, it cleverly utilizes technologies and software that are readily available, making the format unique yet surprisingly easy to adapt. It is also voiced by a famous comedian, so could become the perfect vehicle for your country’s favorite comedian to have fun with.”

Fujioka continues, “As a public broadcaster, NHK is continuously exploring new media technology and production methods. The hybrid CGI character we incorporated in Chiko’s Challenge can be counted as one of those achievements.

“It is also important for us to always have an underlining tone of warmth and compassion in our content to serve the public. These values are always tied close to the core concept of our formats, and they add many layers to them. We believe our formats should have solid universal values that people can relate to regardless of where you are from, and that warmth and compassion are now ever so more relevant during this time of hardship under COVID-19.”

Looking at the year ahead, NHK Enterprises is working to further develop an effective way to communicate and work together with its clients while traveling abroad is still a challenge. “We are looking forward to delivering our favorite unscripted formats outside Japan and putting smiles on a wider audience,” says Fujioka.