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Local pan-Asian fare pulls big numbers

U.S. successes cool in certain o'seas countries

SYDNEY — Stateside hits “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” are the hottest new shows of the 2005 ratings season in Australia, but don’t expect either to be anywhere near as compelling in parts of Asia, where homegrown dramas are dominant.

Take South Korea, where “Lost” is relegated to a 1 p.m. Saturday slot on free-to-air web KBS2, with a rating of around 6%. Local dramas typically reap 20%-30% of primetime auds.

“Lost” launched March 17 on Sony’s AXN cable/satellite channel in some Asian markets. In Singapore, “Housewives” is screening at 10 p.m. Mondays on MediaCorp TV’s Channel 5, where it’s the top-rated imported skein.

In Japan, no free-to-air web has bought either “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives.”

Both series have a good shot at reaching a wide audience in Hong Kong, where they will launch later this year on TVB’s popular English-lingo Pearl.

The strength of domestic programming plus a general sense that broadcasters are raking in healthy ad revenues in many markets around the world means sellers from the Asia Pacific region are heading to Mip in a positive mood.

Korean dramas are racking up record sales in Asia, including Taiwan, China and Japan, says Korean Broadcasting System global strategy exec Tae Ho Sung. Last year, Korean programming exports were worth $71 million, a 70% improvement vs. 2003, and dramas accounted for 92% of the total. KBS, which had six of the top 10 local dramas, clocked $26 million in sales.

“KBS has broadened its target viewers to other Asian ethnic groups and focused on producing dramas with pan-Asian appeal,” Sung adds.

At Mip, KBS will be pitching series including “Winter Sonata,” “Emperor of the Sea” and “Sorry, I Love.”

The Korean Broadcasting Commission and Korean webs will co-present a Korea Day at the Cannes bazaar.

Cathy Payne, chief exec of Australia’s Southern Star Intl., says, “The economies and TV ad revenues in many markets are buoyant, so I think we will find buyers are ready to buy at Mip.”

Payne is confident Southern Star’s 26-part half-hour teen drama “Blue Water High” (a co-production with Germany’s NDR, commissioned by Oz pubcaster ABC) will appeal to free-to-air webs and youth channels in markets such as the U.K., France and Canada. She’ll pitch the skein, set in a surf academy on Sydney’s northern beaches, to Encore’s WAM! channel in the U.S.

After selling the first series of reality show “My Restaurant Rules” to the U.K. (Flextech), South Korea and Discovery channels in Asia and Latin America, Payne is sure those and other broadcasters will step up for a second helping. Program follows five couples as they compete with startup eateries.

SSI will launch English animated skein “Gordon the Garden Gnome” (commissioned by the BBC) on the Riviera and it will relaunch Oz medical drama “All Saints,” which was previously handled by London-based Minotaur.

Another stalwart Mip marketeer, Fiona Crago, general manager of Australia’s Beyond, notes, “I would not say the international market is good or easy, but it’s stabilized.”

Beyond managed to boost its sales by 20% in the 2004 fiscal year and is looking at the same growth rate this year with an eclectic slate that includes “Deadly Women,” three one-hours that profile four killers, filmed in Australia, Europe and North America; two “Riverdance” specials; and the second season of “Mythbusters,” in which two Hollywood special f/x experts take on urban legends.

Also new from Beyond is “Beyond Tomorrow,” 13 one-hours, filmed around the world, that look at technological innovations and scientific breakthroughs. It’s a reincarnation of the series “Beyond 2000,” which ran from 1985-2000 and aired in more than 100 countries.

Crago laments that around half of the gains in Beyond’s revenues have been offset by a weak U.S. dollar.

Japanese broadcasters will be out in force on the Croisette.

Fumi Ishizaki, an exec in the international department at Fuji, is sanguine. “As the understanding of people overseas toward Japanese culture has deepened, our format and animation sales have been spread to the U.S. and Europe,” he says. “With its focus primarily on younger viewers, Fuji TV has continually produced top-rated local dramas and variety shows.”

At Mip, Fuji will unveil a slew of shows including “Emma: A Victorian Romance,” an animated series set in 19th-century London; “Legends: Tale of the Dragon Kings,” a toon skein with virtual 3-D monsters; reality show “Run for Money,” in which players are chased through town by hunters; and light entertainment format “The Fountain of Trivia.”

The climate for selling Japanese films and programming hasn’t changed for the past few years, says Ricky Hashimoto, general manager of Tohokushinsha. “Good TV series or films always attract buyers and business opportunities.”

TFC has closed deals in multiple territories for animated series “She, the Ultimate Weapon: Another Love Song” and the third edition of theatrical franchise “Patlabor,” a toon sci-fier.

At Mip, its new wares will include animated skeins “Acquarion” (featuring robots) and fantasy “Windy Tales.” In addition, it will have pics “The Man Behind the Scissors,” a psycho thriller about the serial murders of high school girls found with scissors thrust into their throats.

(Vicki Rothrock in Hong Kong contributed to this report.)

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