Japan Idol?

It is commonly known that most Asian broadcasters’ schedules are dominated by local content. So it makes sense that many international distributors are using format sales as a way to enter the Asian market or increase their revenues there. Indeed, the Asian formats business has entered a bit of a renaissance, with traditionally difficult markets like China beginning to open up, a booming business in India and emerging new opportunities across Southeast Asia.

While format distributors have been working in the region for many years now, the business has received a boost recently thanks to the ratings success of local adaptations of a number of well-known international brands. The Amazing Race Asia delivered record audiences for AXN and is now in its second season. Idol has become a brand-defining event for many Asian broadcasters. Deal or No Deal has secured a host of prime-time spots and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has experienced a revival in India—as Kaun Banega Crorepati—and this year launched in China. Most recently, Mark Burnett demonstrated his commitment to Asia with a plan to set up a local office in Singapore, on the heels of inking a deal for an Asian version of The Contender for AXN. The reality-TV mastermind behind hits like Survivor has teamed up with Genting International—which is building a resort in Singapore—to develop, produce and distribute reality-TV formats to the region under the mantle of Mark Burnett Productions Asia (MBPA), a fifty-fifty partnership with a joint investment of up to $20 million. Announcing the initiative last month, Burnett said: “We’ve been doing business in and around Asia since our company was founded, and we’ve been looking at ways to do more in this massive market.” MBPA will produce local versions of Burnett formats, and will develop titles specifically for Asian markets.

As further proof that Asia’s format business has come of age, a growing number of titles from the region are being sold as formats around the world. At this year’s MIPCOM, one of FremantleMedia’s big new launches was Hole in the Wall, a Japanese game show that the company is offering up for local adaptation around the world. And in August, Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) announced plans to offer the format rights to the Korean drama Hyena to broadcasters across Europe.

Taking on Asian concepts is one strategy being used by format distributors as they position themselves as local players in Asia. FremantleMedia, which has a production base in Indonesia, is eyeing expansion in key markets like India, China and Japan through local partnerships, according to Simon Spalding, the director of Asia-Pacific operations at the company. “Rather than being seen as a foreign company bringing Western [intellectual property], we’re trying to figure out how can we change that perception to being [seen as] a local company, like we are in Belgium, in Australia or in the U.S.”

In particular, FremantleMedia is exploring its options in India, especially in the wake of a successful third season of Indian Idol on SET. “If we’re really going to [have] some success in India, we have to get back into the market and be seen as a local player,” Spalding explains. “Strategically we’ve made that decision—that’s what we want to do. Now we’re figuring out the best way to do it; whether it’s a joint venture or a partnership or an acquisition, we’re not sure yet.”

Being viewed as a local operation has also been a priority for Distraction. Instead of opening up an office in the region, however, the Montreal-based company has aligned with a Singa­porean producer and distributor, Theatre Red. “They are based in the market and know the market,” says Distraction’s president and CEO, Michel Rodrigue. “They produce as well; that’s a big advantage for us,” allowing Distraction to have greater control over the execution of local adaptations.

With Theatre Red overseeing India and several other Asian markets, Distraction has now set its sights on China and Korea, and Rodrigue says he is looking to sign up local representatives in both of those countries. “Getting to know the market, getting to know the people, is a lengthy process,” he says. “It would be much easier for us if we had agents there.”

Endemol has a sales office in Thailand under its managing director for Southeast Asia, Ed Sharples. “We are seeing growth year on year in the whole region, and we are confident that this will continue,” Sharples says. “Vietnam is the surprise market, and by volume we have more programs on air there than in any other country.”

Sparks Network has also set up shop in Asia with a sales office in Singapore. The format-sales network’s Asia-Pacific members are Optimystix in India and Ambience Entertainment in Australia, and it is looking to sign up more independent producers who can contribute their ideas for international exploitation and import other members’ titles into their home markets. “We are in negotiations with production companies in several Asian territories that we will finalize within the next month,” says Axel Niklasson, the managing director of Sparks Network Asia. Discussions are advanced in Japan and Korea, and are also under way in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. “We also have ongoing discussions in China and expect to strengthen our position there early next year,” Niklasson says.


Game shows are dominating the format trade in Asia at present, mostly because they tend to be the most cost-efficient and easiest titles to adapt. “And they’re much quicker to put on the air,” notes Distraction’s Rodrigue, who has high expectations for the rollout of the game show Trade Up in the region.

Sparks has seen interest in Clueless and On the Right Track, while the kids’ game show Amigo is in its second season in Vietnam. SevenOne International is highlighting the format rights to the science-based entertainment series Clever!, after already licensing the original German version to China, Taiwan and Thailand, while format rights have gone to Malaysia. SevenOne has also sold the format All Together Now to Vietnam and The Comedy-Trap to India, and licensed clips from another science-based series, Galileo, to CCTV in China and Fuji TV in Japan.

For 2waytraffic International, the acquisition of Celador International and of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? format gave it a firm foothold in Asia, with deals in place for local versions in numerous markets, including Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and, most recently, China with Guizhou TV. “Another of our formats with a strong track record in the region is TXTC, a game show targeted at teenagers and under 25s,” says Julian Curtis, the senior sales manager for Asia at 2waytraffic International. “It’s a studio-based format which features two larger-than-life-sized mobile phones built into the studio floor that contestants use to text their answers.” The format has aired in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Curtis is looking to build on that success with the Millionaire spin-off 50-50, which is being piloted by Japan’s Fuji TV.

SPTI has carved out a successful business in producing game shows in Asia. The company is currently pitching Power of 10 to Asian broadcasters and is in production in several markets on the Danish title Karaoke Showdown.

Variety shows are also performing well, led by the likes of Idol, which has been produced in India, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, among other territories. For Spalding, getting Idol on the air in Japan is a priority for the brand going forward. Plans are also under way for Asian Idol, featuring the winners from several editions in the region.


Quiz shows and variety titles, in addition to playing well with audiences, are opening up new revenue opportunities for SMS voting and other interactive applications. “It is important, especially in markets like the Philippines,” says Endemol’s Sharples. “We make sure that [interactivity] has a part in the show [and] brings added value. A good example of this is the Deal or No Deal SMS game we do with MediaCorp in Singapore—we received the highest numbers the broadcaster ever had for an interactive SMS application of this sort.”

2waytraffic, with its expertise in participation-TV formats, is also seeing interest in this area from Asian broadcasters. “There’s huge potential for growth,” Curtis says. “We have some exciting deals in the pipeline.”

While there hasn’t been too much business done in the area of drama and comedy formats, distributors are beginning to see that arena open up. Endemol’s Sharples refers to “serious interest” from broadcasters for the company’s scripted catalogue, which it is has only recently begun offering in Asia. Distraction has in the past fared well with Love Bugs and recently licensed the scripted comedy Serial Frank to Malaysia.

Latin American novela distributors are particularly excited about the prospects for increasing their format business in Asia, after years of successfully licensing completed productions region-wide. This summer, executives from Telefe International took a one-month Asian tour, meeting with networks in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Korea, among other territories. Vietnam, in particular, is a “booming market,” according to Gonzalo Cilley, the Argentinean distributor’s head of formats and international production.

Cilley notes that in many Asian markets, broadcasters’ interest in Korean drama is beginning to wane in favor of locally produced fare, a trend he hopes to take advantage of by offering scripted formats of novelas that performed well in their home market and have been successfully adapted elsewhere. For the Asia TV Forum, the slate includes Montecristo; Detectives, Brothers & Co.; Pretenders; Loony Love; and Flinderella.

Cilley notes, however, that adapting novela formats is particularly challenging, and requires an enormous level of trust in the local producers’ abilities. “We need to find partners in each country,” he says. “People that are able to take the original version and identify things that have to be adapted to make it work. That’s very important. It’s not like you take the original scripts and translate them into the local language. We discuss changes to the story, and that means we send them the original scripts, they send us their suggestions, we send back our suggestions and we go back and forth. It’s a long process and it involves people from both sides. It’s essential that the audience sees the show as local. We don’t want them to think they are watching an adaptation of an Argentinean show. We want them to think it was created for them.”

Todd Miller, the executive VP and managing director for Asia at SPTI, says that the studio is mining its catalogue for potential drama adaptations, and agrees that scripted formats require more tending to than reality series or quizzes. “In some Southeast Asian markets, there’s still a learning curve in terms of production know-how, and it’s not as simple as saying, Here are 35 scripts, good luck! Part of our approach is, when we do these scripted formats, we provide an extraordinary amount of support.”

For Xavier Aristimuño, the VP of sales and international business development for Telemundo Internacional in Asia, the key to successfully adapting a novela format lies in understanding “the structure and value of the script,” adapting “the storytelling to the cultural values of the country” and, lastly, “recreating the chemistry in between actors, which is a crucial part of a good love story.”

He notes that the company has taken a “cautious” approach to novela adaptations in Asia: “We strongly believe that the adaptation of formats requires a lot of work and dedication from both sides.” Having licensed such titles as Hidden Passion, Second Chance, The Storm and Looking for Dad in the region, Aristimuño says he is now in talks for format deals with broadcasters in India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.


Telefe’s Cilley says that when it comes to scripted formats, copyright protection has not been much of a concern. “The essence of the fiction formats are the scripts, and it’s all about the execution—how you’re going to tell it in each episode. That’s not easy to copy.”

Unscripted formats, however, are a very different ball game, and copyright theft has been an issue for many distributors working in the region. For FremantleMedia’s Spalding, a key to protecting intellectual property lies in developing shows “that are not possible to copy. Our Soccer Prince format [in China] has a unique prize, which is an apprenticeship with an English football club. People could copy all the elements, but being unable to deliver that prize makes [the show] less compelling.”

“What we’re selling to you for a [percentage] of the production cost is the expertise, how not to make this show fail,” adds Distraction’s Rodrigue. “All the development we’ve invested in this show—that’s what we’re selling to you. So there are two things that can happen [if a broadcaster steals a format]: we can sue you, or we could just let you fail.”

Source: http://www.worldscreen.com/featurescurrent.php?filename=format1207.htm


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