Chinese streaming firm iQIYI and production company G.H.Y. Culture & Media are launching Uni-Icon Entertainment, a Singapore-based talent agency focusing on Southeast Asian performing talent.

Announced at a signing ceremony in Singapore on Wednesday, the talent agency aims to identify and promote talent, with an emphasis on performers from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. A talent search reality program is to be produced concurrently and streamed exclusively on iQIYI platforms. Singaporean actor Tay Ping Hui is set to be the first artist on the agency’s books.

The agency will also feed into iQIYI’s existing operations in China. “We look forward to providing Southeast Asian talents a gateway to one of the biggest entertainment markets in the world, turning them into household names,” said Yang Xianghua, president of membership and overseas business group at iQIYI.

The talent agency will also act as an academy of sorts, providing training in acting, dance, hosting and other performing skills to its artists under its management. Such a move is familiar across Asia’s media industries, where agencies tend to take an active, paternalistic and sometimes domineering approach to developing talent and their careers.

Despite the China-centric nature of the joint venture’s partners, performers signed with the agency need not be fluent in Mandarin. Yang said the streamer had experience integrating non-Chinese speaking performers into its projects. “Youth with You 2,” a reality series about girl bands, included Thai singer Lisa from K-pop group Blackpink as a series judge, who was live-dubbed into Mandarin when the show streamed in China.

iQIYI launched its international headquarters in Singapore in December 2020, one of a number of Chinese media companies, such as Alibaba, Tencent and Bytedance, who have opened offices in the city state in recent months. With Singapore seen as a neutral base of operations amid trade tensions between China and the U.S, these corporate moves have also been accompanied by strategic expansion into the SEA market.

G.H.Y chairman Guo Jingyu said that the agency had “earmarked Southeast Asia to be a growth market.” Recruiting local talent will be crucial to developing its expansion ambitions.