Content trends – 7 Formats Doing The Business In Asia

DIFFERENCES in audience taste, combined with competition from strong local producers, has meant that tape sales into Asia have long been difficult to do. Western animation was a partial exception, though even this genre often found it difficult to break out of pay TV and find berths on free-to-air channels.

Key developments making Western IPs successful in Asia

In recent times, however, a couple of major developments have boosted the fortunes of Western IP in Asia.

The first is the emergence of streaming platforms, which have been more open to acquiring non-traditional content. In China in particular, there has been a boom in business thanks to the likes of iQiyi, Tencent, Youku and Bilibili.

The second is the inexorable rise of the scripted and unscripted format business. With this model, Western ideas can be adapted to fit local sensibilities. Introducing characters that local audiences can relate to is the key here, but so is the cultural tone of the show. A show that is regarded as too risqué or progressive in Asia can be softened without adversely affected the core mechanic that drives viewing. 

Also important is that format adaptation is usually an exercise in collaboration. Rather than a Western firm simply parachuting in completed shows, it is required to work with local producers, broadcasters and talent agencies to make a show happen. In other words, local stakeholders feel engaged, respected and remunerated. There is a growing roster of great adaptations.

Below, we profile 8 examples of shows that have seized the Asian opportunity.

1- Got Talent: China

FREMANTLE/Syco Entertainment’s feelgood format Got Talent seems to work everywhere – and China is no exception. The current season is produced by Star Canxing and simulcast on both Tik Tok in China and local broadcaster JiangsuTV. Previously, the show aired on Dragon TV.

Known locally as Dian Zan Da Ren Xiu, the new season of China’s Got Talent airs weekly on Sundays at 21.00 and comprises 11 episodes. Commenting on the decision to work with two platforms, Ganesh Rajaram, general manager and executive vice-president of sales for Asia at Fremantle, said it would “help us to maximise the series potential to reach a wider audience”.

China’s Got Talent. Photo: Fremantle

2- UnREAL: India

THE INDIAN scripted market has gone into overdrive, fueling a voracious demand for great ideas and IP. The appetite for great stories has always been evident in the shape of Bollywood. But an explosion in pay TV and streaming services has created a new ecosystem for scripted series. In part, this is being fed by originations – but India has also become a key market for scripted formats. Pioneers included the BBC, with The Office. And more recently All3Media International has enjoyed success with Liar, from Two Brothers Pictures.

A+E Networks’ expansion into scripted formats has also borne fruit in India, with Indian content studio Applause adapting its dark comedy UnREAL. The show, which ran for four seasons in the US, takes a satirical look at popular TV dating show.

Applause committed to one 10-episode season, with an option for a second season. At the time of the deal, Sameer Nair, CEO of Applause, said:“Indian audiences have always loved reality shows, and UnREAL – a brilliant show on the behind-the-scenes conniving of a dating show – is bound to be a unique reality check in India’s exploding digital content space.”

3- The Bridge: Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia

WHO WOULD have thought that a thriller based around an incident on the Sweden/Denmark border could be so adaptable worldwide? But alongside remakes involving the UK/France, USA/Mexico, Estonia/Russia and Germany/Russia, SVT/DR co-production Bron (The Bridge) has been relocated to the Singapore/Malaysia border.

Season one aired on pay-TV channel HBO Asia, streaming platform Viu and was simulcast in Malaysia by NTV7. A 10-part second season aired in 2020, with HBO and Viu the primary partners again. Adding to the thrill factor, “the second season introduces an Indonesian dimension, which escalates the stakes and production value of the series,” said Jessica Kam, head of HBO Asia Original Production, WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks & Sales, SE Asia, Pacific and China.

Sahana Kamath, head of original production for Viu Indonesia and Malaysia, said series two is : a true regional production with more twists and turns, moving the action seamlessly across three countries”.

The Bridge, Malaysia edition. Photo: HBO Asia

4- Lego Masters: South Korea

BANIJAY Rights-distributed Lego Masters is one of the surprise format successes in recent years, racking up territories such as the US, Australia and Scandinavia. But even the creators of the show (Tuesday’s Child) must marvel at the fact that the show has conquered both the Chinese and Korean television markets in the last year.

Leading Korean channel MBC has agreed to broadcast a local version of the show, which it will co-produce with production company B&C Content. Commenting on the breakthrough partnership, Daryl Kho, senior vice-president, Asia – formats, Banijay Rights, said: “Lego Masters is already a global phenomenon, providing upbeat and inclusive viewing to audiences worldwide. This is a landmark deal – the only unscripted format originating from outside South Korea to air on its free-to-air channels.”

Korean channel MBC 2 will broadcast a local version of Lego Masters, produced with production company B&C Content. Photo: Banijay Rights

5- Doctor Foster: The Philippines

THE PHILIPPINES doesn’t feature often in the international TV trade publications, but it is home to a vibrant TV market with some powerful broadcasting entities. One of these is ABS-CBN, which recently signed up to create a local version of BBC Studios scripted format Doctor Foster.

Written by Mike Bartlett, the series focuses on a doctor whose life spirals out of control when she suspects her husband of having an affair. The format has proved popular on the international market, having been adapted in Korea, France, Russia, Turkey, and India.

The Filipino version will be a 50 x 60-minute series produced by ABS-CBN Entertainment. Cory Vidanes, ABS-CBN COO of broadcast, said the company is looking forward to producing “this highly engaging and relatable story for the Filipino audience. True to our commitment to serve the Filipino, we are excited to create our own retelling of this story, and to see the characters come alive with Filipino elements.”

The Philippines’ ABS-CBN recently signed up to create a local version of Doctor Foster. Photo: ABS-CBN

6- Ru Paul’s Drag Race: Thailand

DRAG Race is a global phenomenon, spawning several spin-off shows and local versions. A little-known fact, however, is that Thailand was one of the first countries outside the US to produce its own version. The show is hosted by local drag stars Art Arya and Pangina Heals, and is already prepping its third season.

The original show is produced by World of Wonder, which is looking to build a dedicated streaming proposition based around the franchise. The Thai version, meanwhile, is handled by Kantana and airs on Line TV. There was a second season in 2019 and Kantana has said the show will return in 2022.

World of Wonder’s Drag Race Thailand. Photo: World Of Wonder

7- I Love My Country: Vietnam

ECHOING a point made in the introduction about intermediaries, a lot of hit formats in Vietnam go via Dong Tay Promotions. Formed in 2000, Dong Tay produces 1200 hours of content a year for leading broadcasters. Titles it has brokered into Vietnam include Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?.

In 2020, it also picked up the rights to ITV Studios’ I Love My Country, with plans to produce the show for HTV. Despite belonging to ITV, the format is actually Dutch in origin and was created by John De Mol. It has sold to around 25 countries including China and Thailand.


5 Useful Takeaways to seize the Asian opportunity

1- ASIAN cultures are generally more conservative than those in the West – so risqué or provocative formats like Love Island and Married At First Sight may need to be toned down to work across the region. 

2- Asian territories place a strong emphasis on collaboration – so expect to share responsibility for the local version with a trusted producer or the in-house division of one of the leading broadcasters.

3- An Asian version of a show can be a great sell-on asset. Korean and Japanese shows in particular are widely viewed across the region – so there may be additional revenues from completed sales.

4- Prepare to be flexible with show structures: there’s no guarantee that local broadcasters will share Western-style scheduling templates. This has historically been true in Japan, for example.

5- Look out for changing regulations, with governments sometimes restricting the volume of Western content that can be commissioned. Monetisation models may also be different, with advertiser barter arrangements sometimes the preferred way of doing business. 

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About Author

Andy Fry is a freelance journalist who contributes regularly to leading TV and marketing trade magazines - MIP Daily News, Lions Magazine, Location International, Broadcast, KFTV, Playback, C21, TBI, DTVE and many more. He is co-chair of the UK Sponsorship Awards and provides strategic advice and copywriting services to leading TV studios.

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