Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Wake up and smell the money

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast November 24, 2011

Asia’s tiger economies offer rich rewards, writes Kate Bulkley.

Attending the Casbaa convention in Hong Kong earlier this month was like going back in time to the UK and Europe of the last millennium.

Rather than the recession-fuelled nervousness that defines most European events nowadays, the Casbaa gathering of the Asian multichannel community was more concerned with finding the best parties (NBC Universal’s Kee Club bash featuring Life in the Fab Lane’s Kimora Lee Simmons was a hot ticket) and how to jump on the bandwagon of Asian growth.

Not only do many Asian countries still have relatively low multichannel TV penetration (Indonesia has just 6%, according to Casbaa) but TV advertising across the region is growing at double-digit rates, and mobile broadband is setting new standards for content delivery.

Unsurprisingly, the big target markets are China and India. The latter plans to digitise its cable systems and roll out 4G mobile broadband next year, while China presents potential TV audiences in the hundreds of millions and has 485 million internet users.

How can UK broadcasters and indies get some of that Asian business energy? Programme sales, format deals and setting up channels are all on the agenda, but the emphasis is changing to co-production and co-creation deals as these markets get more sophisticated and want local content, not just imports.

Endemol struck a partnership in September with one of China’s biggest broadcasters, Shanghai Media Group, to jointly create original programming, neatly getting around the fact that non-Chinese firms cannot set up on their own in China.

That followed the launch in February of a production partnership between ITV and Australian-based Active TV Asia to develop and produce local versions of hit formats, such as Surprise, Surprise for Shandong TV in China and From Popstar To Operastar for CJ TV in Korea. Versions of Come Dine With Me for Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are also planned.

But China can be tricky. Hunan Satellite TV’s Pop Idol clone Super Girl regularly got 400 million viewers for the finale, but in September the Chinese TV regulator threw it off air, reportedly because it was too low-brow. The democratic voting for winners was also a bit unnerving for one-party China.

As Jeff Shell, president of NBC Universal International, told Casbaa: “We have a great theatrical business in China but for TV, the key is finding the right partner and strategy. You need influence, not just capital.”

Plans for Asia need to be drawn up with local partners, long-term goals and, perhaps most importantly, an entrepreneurial spirit running through. Look at The Kitchen Musical, the new Glee-meets-Hell’s Kitchen pan-Asia series, which cost $350,000 an episode, almost double the typical Asian budget. Ben Silverman of Electus has already licensed the US version.

“I think that Western companies need to wake up and smell the money in Asia,” said one Hong Kong-based TV executive. “Hollywood was first, but this region is going to be the biggest content creator in the world over the next 10 years.”

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