Asian Spin

Formats remain an integral tool for Asian broadcasters looking to ramp up their local programming slates.

The new format restrictions in China, Asia’s biggest media market, had some distributors feeling a little wary last year. To be fair, China, with its myriad regulations on imported programming, has always been a bit of a puzzle for content distributors. Nevertheless, it has become a massive market for format sales, and new laws implemented in 2014 had some rights-holders worried about what the future held for their businesses there.

As it turns out, China remains a lucrative territory for companies with adaptable concepts, and the country’s leading platforms, both linear and online, snapped up a wide range of titles this year from a variety of territories. Of note, Dori Media Group licensed several scripted comedy formats to China, and Sohu shored up the rights for an adaptation of Saturday Night Live. The Sony Pictures Television sitcom Mad About You is getting a Chinese treatment, as are Keshet International’s scripted formats Traffic Light and Loaded. There was a new Chinese agreement on the factual-entertainment format Gogglebox from all3media international, and Global Agency did a deal with IPCN for a remake of the talent show The Remix. And that is just a sampling of the numerous acquisitions made by Chinese broadcasters and production companies in the last 12 months.

China is only one of several Asian markets that had format distributors buzzing with activity in 2015. “It’s been a busy year for us,” says Haryaty Rahman, the senior VP of sales and distribution for Asia at FremantleMedia International. “We’ve just completed renewal deals for Got Talent in Cambodia, Myanmar, Mongolia and the Philippines, and we’ve recently closed a collection of new deals in Cambodia for Thank God You’re Here, The Price Is Right, Cash or Splash and The Noise, as well as Family Feud in Myanmar.”

The newly combined Endemol Shine Group has also seen a surge of activity this year, reports Fotini Paraskakis, the company’s managing director for Asian operations. “In the last 18 months, Endemol Shine in Asia has closed 150 deals and we have continued to grow from strength to strength since our recent merger. By year end, we will have MasterChef in six territories, plus our very own pan-Asian production; and our hit music-entertainment show Your Face Sounds Familiar in five territories. Anything Goes, The Choice and Deal or No Deal are still going strong.”

Keshet International (KI) has been so busy in Asia, it decided to set up an office in Hong Kong, led by former Eccho Rights executive Gary Pudney. “Having a strong and fast response team on the ground to facilitate deal-making is sure to take our business in the region to the next level,” says Kelly Wright, sales director at KI. “It will also help us build our third-party distribution catalogue and become more involved in the production of our formats locally.”

For the distributors surveyed here, business has been booming across the region, but there are a couple of particularly hot markets, notably Thailand and Vietnam. “In Thailand, because of the launch of 24 DTT channels, there is a great deal of demand for formats,” says Hyeonza Hong, senior VP of sales for Asia at ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVS GE). “In Vietnam, most channels are actively buying key international formats, as most of them have been successful with local versions.” Hong says that ITVS GE recently clinched deals on Get Your Act Together and Sing My Song in Vietnam, and The Line in Thailand. In China, meanwhile, it has a new co-development deal with Huace to produce a show leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Yi Qiao, sales manager for the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Red Arrow International, also highlights Vietnam and Thailand as key territories. “My Man Can has proven to be a big success in Asia, with a second season commissioned in Thailand and the first season to start airing in Vietnam this year,” she says.

“Vietnam continues to be a key territory for us in terms of sales, with 23 format deals in the territory this year,” adds Endemol Shine’s Paraskakis. “We’ve also seen huge growth in Thailand with the digital channel expansion, and in the Philippines there has been great solid growth with consecutive successful seasons of Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Your Face Sounds Familiar and Minute to Win It.”

Indo-China has emerged as a strong performer for FremantleMedia, Rahman says, particularly Cambodia. “The market has only opened up to Western formats in the last 18 months, but a number of our titles are now being produced there. Following our success in Cambodia last year, we’re now seeing Mongolia opening its doors to more and more of our programming. As well as further extending our relationship with Mongol TV, the producer of Mongolia’s Got Talent, we’re currently talking to other broadcasters in this market to bring more of FremantleMedia’s formats to local audiences.”

Isil Türksen, sales director for Asia at Global Agency, pinpoints China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam as having been her focal points this year. “We connected with many new producers and channels thanks to our increasing presence in the region,” she says. For 2016, she’ll be focusing on Southeast Asia in general, as well as opportunities in China.

For Electus International, China has been a key growth market this year, according to VP Cyrus Farrokh, who adds, “We are always looking to do more in India as it’s a vibrant market and we are finalizing a deal with a broadcaster that we hope to announce soon. We are seeing strong interest for our scripted formats in South Korea, including Jane the Virgin, which we are currently in discussions with a partner to adapt.”

Jessica Cox, format sales executive at all3media international, highlights the company’s success in China and Korea with titles like Sexy Beasts, Gogglebox and Are You Normal? “We’ve had phenomenal success with Are You Normal? in China, with the second season achieving a huge 430 million downloads for the Tencent VOD platform,” Cox reports. “The dating format Sexy Beasts is also proving a big hit for KBS in Korea, and a local version of the event game-show format The Million Second Quiz has just begun to air in China on Mango TV.”

Wright says that KI is already active in eight major Asian territories. “We’re looking at putting format adaptations on the air in Thailand, India and Vietnam, which are the next major markets.”

Qiao at Red Arrow is particularly intrigued by new opportunities in Korea and Japan, “because they are very strong in format development themselves,” she says. In Japan, Red Arrow sealed a landmark deal with Nippon TV and Hulu for a local version of the crime drama The Last Cop.

Japan is also on Cox’s priority list at all3media. “Japan has always been a prolific creator of TV shows, but hasn’t brought in many external formats,” she notes. “We’re really happy to have some deals in Japan in the pipeline that we will be able to announce shortly. We’re also doing more business in the Philippines and Thailand after our recent success with Cash Cab. In addition, we see strong opportunities in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia that we plan to exploit during 2016.”

Paraskakis has her eye on building the Endemol Shine presence in smaller markets like Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan. “Cambodia is ahead with a vibrant format market now in place and we expect Pakistan and Myanmar to follow suit soon. MasterChef has now sold in all three territories and our classic game shows like Deal or No Deal and 1 vs 100 are receiving a lot of attention there, too.”

Unlike in years past, when it seemed like only game- and talent-show formats sold into Asia, broadcasters across the region today seem eager to try out a variety of genres. But there are a couple of staples that remain on broadcaster wish lists.

“Game shows with a comedy spin are in heavy demand,” says Red Arrow’s Qiao. “We still see big shiny-floor entertainment shows working well in Asia. Budgets are sometimes quite small, which proves challenging, but levels of creativity and talent are high, helping to keep up the quality and ambition of the shows. Both talent shows and physical game shows are still popular in the region. Also, female lifestyle shows are doing well.”

Endemol Shine’s Paraskakis agrees with Qiao that game shows, reality and talent are key genres for Asian broadcasters. She’s also seeing continued interest in mega brands like MasterChef, Deal or No Deal, Minute to Win It and Big Brother.

Got Talent and Idol show no signs of slowing down at Fremantle­Media’s Asian operations. “Mongolia’s Got Talent and Myanmar’s Got Talent are now the highest rated shows ever in their respective markets, while Cambodia’s Got Talent and Cambodian Idol have received special commendation from Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen,” Rahman says.

Not that it’s impossible to crack the region with a new concept. ITV-Inter Medya will be showcasing its brand-new format slate at Asia TV Forum. Can Okan, president and CEO, says the company will be at the market with a variety of game shows, led by Answer If You Can, Celebrities in the Kitchen and The League.

ITVS GE’s Hong lists family entertainment and talent as strong performers in Southeast Asia, while Chinese platforms are more interested in concepts that can be “socially beneficial to audiences.” In Korea, Hong has observed an interest in “smart and creative shows that can attract younger audiences. And they are also actively looking for ways to bring in digital advertising money in collaboration with their linear channels.”

Türksen says Global Agency has experienced broad interest in its talent shows, including The Remix, which recently premiered in Indonesia, and Keep Your Light Shining, launching in Cambodia in 2016. The game show Is That Really Your Voice, meanwhile, is performing well in China. “There is now also a wide interest for game shows, especially on the physical/comedy side. Reality formats are also in demand given that they are somewhat related to or include local celebrities.”

For KI’s Wright, “Shiny-floor entertainment formats that are funny, energetic, colorful and packed with celebrities continue to be at the top of Asian buyers’ wish lists. That includes talent shows, game shows and variety shows—broad formats that the whole family can enjoy, including physical game shows. In China, you hear the words ‘outdoor reality’ quite a bit.”

Prime time is the core focus for most channels’ original programming needs, notes Electus’s Farrokh. “Broadcasters’ budgets have been slashed over the years for format acquisitions in daytime and [they’re] moving investment and focus into prime time.”

However, Endemol Shine’s Paraskakis has observed a percolating interesting in formats that can be stripped in access prime time. “Step Right Up, Next One and even The Money Drop [are] doing really well for us in Southeast Asia.”

ITVS GE’s Hong comments, “Our clients don’t just look at our formats for prime time—they look at the titles and consider in which slot it would work best for them. There are times when a broadcaster will come to us with a specific requirement for a specific slot, but this is not always the case. In the main, our partners look at a format first and see whether it could work on their channel and, if so, what time would be the best fit.”

Hong adds, “On-demand access is a must these days. Everyone wants to link the show with online access and, furthermore, look at ways to increase their revenue opportunities from digital viewing.”

Another emerging trend is that Asia is not just an importer of formats, but also a hub for creating concepts that can be exported. Red Arrow has a co-development pact with Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV to create new entertainment and reality formats for the international market. Electus has developed a title with a Chinese partner, and Farrokh says the company is always looking for ideas it can bring back to the U.S. At ATF, he notes, “more than half of our meetings are with IP owners. There continues to be more openness from U.S. channels to consider formats originating from outside Western Europe, which is creating opportunities for us. We acquired a Korean format that we set up at a U.S. channel.”

Paraskakis says that Endemol Shine will be stepping up its efforts to source Asian concepts in 2016. “We will consider more local co-development initiatives with a view to seeing these ideas travel across the region and then the globe,” she says.

Global Agency’s catalogue already includes a title picked up from Asia—it launched the Thailand-originated Golden Scale at MIPCOM. Keshet, too, is trading in Asian concepts. Dating Hunter from Huace/Croton in China has been optioned by Keshet Studios for a U.S. adaptation, and KI is actively distributing the Chinese talent-show format Not a Star Yet. “And we’re looking for others,” Wright notes. “In general we see an opportunity to build a bridge between the cultural divide of Asia and the West, in particular China and the West, and we’re excited by this challenge. Asian buyers tend to purchase heavily from within the region (e.g. Korea to China, Japan to Korea), but there is still a lot of work to do in applying the same fluidity to the East-West pipeline.”

For Wright, KI’s new Hong Kong office is being envisioned as the company’s “Asian anchor, creating strategic deals for content development, production and acquisition that will propel our business forward in 2016 and beyond.”

Format distributors are feeling upbeat for their prospects in 2016, as the demand for local content shows no signs of abating. And new opportunities are continually emerging.

“For 2016, we will be focusing on the potential in branded opportunities by working more directly with agencies and brands,” Paraskakis says. She’ll also be looking at “new business models and ways of revenue sharing.”

The proliferation of OTT platforms is also set to create more chances for content owners to do deals in the region. As Red Arrow’s Qiao says, “When you see how much the TV landscape has been changing in the last few years, there is a lot of potential for both our formats and scripted shows to find a home in Asia.”