Getting content right for the vast Asia Pacific TV market is one of the key issues for executives at the Asian TV Forum & Market in Singapore and Screen Singapore, which both run Dec. 3-6. That’s because few channels and shows can really work across a region that stretches from India to Japan, and encompasses some of the most developed TV markets to pay TV newcomers, while others, like China, are still subject to significant restrictions.
Along with the more techie questions of delivery, second or third screens and how to engage a generation that has never known cords — forget being cord-cutters — presenting the right content mix has time and again been the difference between ratings success and irrelevance.
For many international channels, localization has been the answer. That has entailed breaking up pan-regional Asian feeds into more segmented, sometimes single-market offerings underneath a regional or multinational brand. And it has also meant acquiring or co-producing more locally made content.
HBO recently dipped into that formula with “Serangoon Road,” a 10-part English series co-produced with the Australian Broadcasting Corp., lensed in Indonesia and set in 1960s Singapore. “Road’s” plot and setting gave HBO plenty of opportunities for shots of cheongsams and rickshaws and storylines about slippery colonialists, opium dens and gambling addicts.
And while “Road” aired over a blanket 23-territory feed, a large part of HBO’s localization efforts has been more strategic, by hatching joint venture networks with local players. It created Asian movie channel Screen Red, with Hong Kong’s Mei Ah Entertainment, for carriage in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand; and, with Bollywood distributor Eros Intl., created two pic channels, HBO Defined and HBO Hits.
At Turner Intl., an acceleration of the localization trend is expected under Ricky Ow, who joins in January from Sony Pictures Television, where he pioneered Asian versions of U.S. shows (“The Big Race Asia”), produced original made-in-Asia shows and created channels specifically for different parts of the region.
Such joint ventures are much harder to achieve in China, where international channels are mostly not allowed to encroach. That instead puts the emphasis on content and co-production.
While China’s regulators seem to constantly change rules about which foreign entertainment shows and formats can be imported, factual programming is an area of relative policy stability and one where Chinese production houses can make strong contributions. That is one of the factors that put factual co-production with China high up on a priority list published recently by Screen Australia, which is urging Oz broadcasters, producers and distributors to shift their focus from the U.S. and Europe and consider Asia as their back yard. The same field is already being plowed by BBC Worldwide, which is in co-production with CCTV on natural history series “Hidden Kingdoms” and is setting up a doc development center with the state broadcaster.
(Pictured: Co-produced with Australian Broadcasting Corp., HBO’s “Serangoon Road” was set in 1960s Singapore and shot in Indonesia.)