Asian content creators have always enjoyed a fair amount of success selling formats within their region. But until recently, breakthroughs beyond the continent were limited to a few Japanese unscripted shows such as Dragon’s Den, Hole In The Wall and The Iron Chef.

In the last year or two, however, the floodgates have opened – with the US and Europe proving especially receptive to Asian IP. American Ninja Warrior, based on TBS Japan’s Sasuke format, has grown into a major franchise for NBC in the US and has subsequently become a tentpole title in territories ranging from the Netherlands to Israel.

 American Ninja Warrior - Asian TV Formats
American Ninja Warrior – A Smith & Co/NBC

Also out of Japan, Fuji TV has notched up sales to Russia (Rich Man, Poor Man) and Australia (101st Proposal), while Nippon TV has enjoyed success selling scripted formats to Turkey via a partnership with Istanbul-based producer Medyapim. The fourth collaboration between the two, Oasis, was unveiled in October 2018, following on from the adaptation of titles including Mother, Woman and Anne.

Meanwhile, Korean IP – so popular within Asia – has also started to make its mark in major Western territories. One of the first titles to establish itself was Better Late Than Never!, NBC’s interpretation of CJ ENM’s Grandpas Over Flowers. Subsequently, Korea has provided US networks with mega-hits including ABC drama The Good Doctor and Fox Network celebrity singing series The Masked Singer – which has quickly established itself as one of 2019’s watercooler hits.

Grandpas Over Flowers - Asian TV Formats
Grandpas Over Flowers. Photo courtesy CJ ENM

As with Japanese formats, Korean success is not limited to the US. Unscripted series I Can See Your Voice has been picked up in Romania, while Better Late Than Never! And Golden Tambourine have both broken into Italy. The latter, a studio music entertainment show, was picked up by Endemol Shine Italy for local adaptation there.

Asia has long been recognised for its ingenuity and innovation, so why is this surge in activity taking place right now? Well there seem to be two main reasons. The first is the voracious appetite for new ideas that can catch the audience’s attention. These days, commissioners and acquisitions executives are not doing their job properly if they don’t turn over every stone in search of the next big thing.

The second is that both sides have got better at engagement. While there have been a few long-running East-West alliances, notably Fremantle’s 10-year partnership with Fuji TV, Asia’s content creators have been putting greater effort into engagement with the West. At the same time, their Western counterparts have learned what it takes to form a mutually-beneficial collaboration with Asian firms.

The big question for 2019 is whether other Asian territories can follow Korea and Japan’s lead. The most likely to do so is China, where the government recently placed restrictions on the number of foreign formats that can be aired by broadcasters. This has encouraged more content origination, which could create new IP for export.

This point has not been lost on international players, which have been seeking to position themselves as partners. UK-based Zig Zig Productions, for example, recently teamed with China’s 3C Media on Ancient Games. This show sees contestants participate in ancient-themed competitions on a colosseum-style set built in China, which is being pitched as a production hub for international adaptations.

Endemol Shine also recently unveiled a partnership with Hunan TV to co-develop original formats. Explaining the rationale, Endemol Shine China MD William Tan said the move was designed to create formats for “local and international consumption…in line with the Chinese government’s call for further content innovation and content export”.

In theory, other Asian production hubs such as India, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines could all deliver new formats – though they would need to push the envelope in the way format hothouses like Korea, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands already do.

Of this group, the one with the most momentum appears to be Thailand, where companies like Workpoint have been building the profile of Thai content across Asia. Workpoint, which has the advantage of owning its own TV channel, is behind The Fan, a non-scripted format licensed to the UK and Sweden by distributor Small World IFT. The same company also enjoyed success at this month’s 23rd Asian TV Awards with formats The Rapper and Diva Makeover, and has seen its Black Sheep format licensed into Italy by Eccho Rights.

As a footnote, Small World and Eccho have both built reputations for spotting talent in emerging markets. So if they are active in the ‘land of smiles’, it could well be among the next format markets to pop. And it doesn’t do Thailand any harm that one of Facebook’s three rebooted versions of The Real World is being produced there.

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 International, Worldscreen, Sport Business, C21, TBI, DTVE and many more.

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