Leading kids’ content distributors weigh in on the opportunities they’re finding across Asia.
Preschoolers in China will be able to celebrate the start of the Year of the Pig in 2019 with the globally beloved pink piglet Peppa. The first co-production between Entertainment One (eOne) Family & Brands and Chinese film giant Alibaba Pictures Group, Peppa Celebrates Chinese New Year arrives in cinemas February 5. Incorporating Chinese New Year traditions, the film will also feature new characters, Panda twins, who will be the basis of a slate of merchandise just for the local market.
The initiative reflects the growing importance of China to kids’ content distributors, and their willingness to try new models to crack a notoriously challenging market. The country of more than 250 million kids 15 and under has a booming streaming sector that has opened up new opportunities for distributors. There are also strict regulations in place, competition from an active, well-supported local animation sector and piracy concerns.
BEHIND THE WALL
“China is becoming a more and more important market and we are making a lot of progress with many different partners,” observes Ulli Stoef, the CEO of Studio 100 Media and m4e. “With partners like UYoung (Mia and me) and WeKids (Wissper, Tip the Mouse) we will launch full licensing programs soon. Also, via our sister company Little Airplane and our feature-film distribution department, we are very active in the market. Despite the new rules from SARFT we hope to be able to build a solid foundation in China.”
Stoef adds, “For us, China is not only a one-way street. We think that some of their content has the [potential] to be more international and we’d like to be a partner to distribute Chinese content to the world.”
Monica Candiani, the executive VP of content sales at eOne Family & Brands, is of the belief that there are “fantastic opportunities to co-produce shows with Chinese production companies and platforms. This is something we’re already doing with different platforms in Asia, and you can expect to see some more announcements about this from us very soon.”
Exporting Chinese IP is also on the agenda at 9 Story Distribution International, which has Luo Bao Bei, a Chinese-Wales co-pro, and Dr. Panda, a Chinese-Dutch collaboration, on its slate. Federico Vargas, VP of distribution at the company, says he’s open to deeper content partnership opportunities in the region as a whole. “In terms of co-producing with animation partners in Asia directly, we are beginning to explore the potential for select projects with universal sensibilities.”
Noémie Bourrié, international sales and digital content manager at Cyber Group Studios, is also open to co-production with Asian players. “We know this market has a lot of skills and expertise in the animation field. Aside from co-production, we would also be glad to partner on a distribution model with Asian producers.”
Escapade Media is already exploring co-pro opportunities out of its home base in Australia and is “talking to different animation studios in Asia to see what are the best options,” says Natalie Lawley, the company’s managing director. “There appear to be lots of opportunities for co-productions.”
Studio 100 and m4e’s Stoef is also bullish on collaboration opportunities region-wide. “We feel that there is a lot of talent in the markets and we’d like to share our know-how in terms of distribution and international appeal of shows. I think that the region offers a lot in terms of animation and pricing for animation. The challenge still is communication and an understanding of the cultural differences. Our goal is to develop a show that resonates in the Asian as well as international markets.”
Distribution to traditional and digital platforms, meanwhile, remains the bread-and-butter business for kids’ content companies heading to Asia TV Forum this year. And by all accounts, it has been a very good year.
“This last year has been very lively in the Asia-Pacific region,” reports Cyber Group’s Bourrié. “Year after year, we have to adapt to the market evolution. While a pay-TV partner has shut down its kids’ channel, other partners are coming to the market with a stronger and bigger policy oriented to kids. Asia is a keystone market for us, and we are more than glad to bring high-end productions to it and see the strong and faithful interest of the broadcasters grow.”
Escapade’s Lawley says the last 12 months have seen some of the company’s clients “restructuring or reducing their channel output. Whether this has been due to mergers or rebranding their business to appeal to a more specific demographic, there has certainly been a lot of change. We feel this is a very positive position for the region, resulting in new opportunities and hopefully a more stable outlook.”
“Traditional broadcasters remain our most important clients in terms of value in the region, except in China where nonlinear rights generate most of the revenues,” states Christophe Goldberger, the managing director of GoldBee. “But our business with nonlinear platforms keeps growing every year.”
“We’ve invested a lot in our AsiaPac business,” says Stoef, noting a recent deal that brought Wissper to India on Nick Jr. Digital opportunities are increasing, he adds, with a slew of the company’s shows on platforms like iQiyi, Youku and Tencent in China. “Free TV is more regulated and it is very difficult to have significant reach for our programs,” he says. “The SVOD side of the business is becoming more important. Thanks to SVOD, we are able to distribute our catalog much wider in the region than before.”
Candiani at eOne reflects a similar sentiment, noting, “The rising popularity of VOD platforms, particularly in China, has ruffled traditional content consumption, and investors are increasingly seeking new original content to make available on these platforms. Consumers now have multiple touchpoints to access their favorite shows at a time that suits them, but there’s also increased competition due to the volume of content available.”
Candiani has also noticed, in the last year, greater requests from linear channels for digital rights to shows. “This is more commonly the case in Australia and New Zealand, but it is also happening in Asia.”
Cyber Group’s Bourrié has also witnessed this development. “We are of course ready to take this turn and are open to new business models, but these new partnerships need to be fruitful for both parties and we need to work to structure new models. Working only on revenue share, as many OTT players are suggesting, is not the best option for an independent production and distribution company like ours.”
9 Story’s Vargas references the company’s “considerable business” with the global streamers present in Asia, and with well-established platforms in China. Outside of those players, “We’re seeing quite a few OTT start-ups pop up and try to find their market positioning. In the mix of all that, our traditional partners continue to be an important part of our territory-specific strategies. In many cases, our long-standing partners are still the optimal homes for some of the big brands and franchises that we’re bringing to market.”
Distributors indicate that there’s a broad range of kids’ content striking a chord with Asian buyers. For Candiani, “non-dialogue-based slapstick visual humor is popular with kids in Asia and, of course, our very own Peppa Pig and PJ Masks are performing well with audiences in each territory where they are given good exposure by the local platform. The universal themes in those shows translate well across all markets and good storytelling will always be appreciated by children.”
Bourrié stresses that market demands differ by country, but broadly “comedy-driven shows and CGI productions are performing well. We also notice that some broadcasters are looking for more arts and educational content. This is what makes this market so interesting and dynamic: the plurality of genres and diversity of needs.”
For Vargas, “established brands that have a strong pedigree” are faring particularly well. “This includes classic series like Garfield and Friends, which is why we invested in remastering to 4K HD. It also includes classic series being reimagined with new content, like the new Clifford the Big Red Dog, which we acquired from Scholastic. Shows with brand awareness are resonating in AsiaPac right now.”
He also points to the popularity of curriculum-based series such as Let’s Go Luna! and Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.
Escapade’s Lawley references the importance of volume when dealing with broadcasters and platforms in the region. “Our titles that have more than three seasons have been reacquired by the same channels, which has been fantastic for those brands. We are still seeing the same challenges with selling live-action content, where animation remains the very dominant need.”
GoldBee has found solid business with the high-end teen dramas it represents on behalf of ZDF Enterprises, such as Mako Mermaids, Wolfblood and Dance Academy, in Southeast Asia. The Athena will be on offer from the company at ATF. “In terms of animation, preschool with some educational content is still in high demand,” such as School of Roars and Cleo & Cuquin, “which seem to resonate well with the audience all over Asia,” says Goldberger.
RIPE FOR EXPANSION
Goldberger is bullish about his company’s continued prospects in Asia—despite some looming challenges on the horizon. “China has been our most important market again this year. With the change in regulation approaching, the market will surely become more selective, which might be good for us as most of our content is high-quality series produced for public broadcasters. Indonesia remains a challenge, especially for animation programs, and we are actively looking to partner with local companies for this particular territory.”
For Stoef at Studio 100 and m4e, South Korea and China remain the company’s best territories in the region, and Japan continues to be a “tough market with its own rules,” he says. “It is very likely that [in the medium term] we will set up our own business or office in the region in order to have a better understanding of the culture and all other aspects. We hope to be able to announce some additional co-productions with partners in the region very soon.”
Candiani at eOne has her eye on sustained success in China and new opportunities in Korea following EBS’s pick-up of PJ Masks this year. “Asia is a strategic focus for the business and in the next year, we will aim to place PJ Masks on additional free-to-air channels across Asia, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong. We’re also excited to be introducing our new show Ricky Zoom in AsiaPac very soon. The CGI series follows the adventures of a little red motorbike. We think it will be a big hit with kids and parents alike.”
Southeast Asia is a key focus for Cyber Group’s Bourrié—“we have the ambition to build new partnerships with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia,” she says, adding, “Of course Japan is a key market that we are working to strengthen our relationship with. We also notice several strong new growing developments in Myanmar and Mongolia.” She will also be committed to sustaining the French company’s robust business with pan-regional platforms and operators in China, Taiwan, Korea and India.
Korea, Indonesia and India are on Lawley’s wish list for expansion at Escapade, but she cautions that there could be a slowdown in the region’s kids’ business in 2019. “I think that there could be reduced options for kids’ content over the next 12 months as budgets decrease and the focus on local productions continues to grow.”
Goldberger, meanwhile, is feeling optimistic as he heads to ATF this year. “We expect AsiaPac to remain a good territory for kids’ and teen content, with stronger local nonlinear platforms maturing and competing with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.”
Pictured: Studio 100 & m4e’s Wissper.