Asia: In the Fast Lane

In the early '90s, the business press focused like a laser on Asia and its burgeoning economies using such fanciful metaphors as 'economic tigers' and 'the dragon awakes' - that is, until the decade ended and 'Asian crisis' became the more apt description.
March 1, 2003

In the early ’90s, the business press focused like a laser on Asia and its burgeoning economies using such fanciful metaphors as ‘economic tigers’ and ‘the dragon awakes’ – that is, until the decade ended and ‘Asian crisis’ became the more apt description. But, for many in the factual film industry, Asia is still a sleeping dragon, and program distribs the world over want to be there when it wakes up.

Survey respondents picked Asia as the market not listed in the Factual Price Guide with the most potential for programming sales, and it’s easy to see why. Major players such as Discovery Networks Asia and National Geographic Asia have had a presence in the region for years and they continue to expand. In addition, cable and satellite channels have been opening up all over Asia. A dearth of local programming means that buyers from China to Korea are looking to the international market for programs to fill their airtime.

Dorothy Crompton, of Los Angeles, U.S.-based distrib o2c, says, ‘Asia has been a very important market for years, but in the last year, it has proven itself to be one of the greatest areas of potential distribution. We’ve seen bigger volumes of programs being acquired in almost all of Asia in comparison to the rest of the world.’

In 2002, Crompton’s company sold approximately 25 hours to China and Japan and 45 hours to South Korea. Their biggest buyer turned out to be Indonesia, which bought 100 hours of programming.

Mette Hoffmann Meyer, commissioning editor and head of sales and coproductions (docs and factual programming) for TV 2 Denmark, concurs that the Asian market has recently opened up. ‘Except for Japan, it has been extremely difficult to sell anything in [Asian] territories,’ she says. ‘But in the last two years, we have had more and more sales to China, Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia.’

Before distributors rush to open an office in Beijing, a word of caution: It’s not easy to break into the Asian market. China has got a wall up that’s difficult to scale, and it’s not the Great one. According to Keiko Bang, president of Hong Kong-based Bang Productions, ‘It’s still very hard to find people you trust, people who will pay decent money, [or even] pay you at all,’ she says.

Bang’s company has been selling non-fiction programming to the Asian market for five years, and she attributes much of her success to her ability to communicate with programmers in their language (Bang speaks Korean, Japanese and Mandarin). International distributors may find the language barrier frustrating, she notes. ‘The biggest problem is that the people who make the [programming] decisions do not speak English.’

This could be changing, however. Hoffmann Meyer claims that TV 2 has not altered the way it markets its products to Asia. She attributes the increase in sales mainly to contacts at such markets as miptv and, possibly, email. ‘Communication is maybe easier now,’ she says.

Still, Bang warns that ‘you work a lot to flog your product in Asia. It’s not a place for the weak at heart.’ She continues, ‘China has a tremendous amount of potential. I know people who have gotten $30,000 an hour out of China, but your standard Chinese broadcaster will tell you [fees are] $1,000 to $4,000.’

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