WITH executives from 26 international companies, 21 keynote speakers and 300-plus attendees, including representatives from 28 local Chinese stations, the inaugural China Format Day at last month’s Sichuan TV Festival proved “that formats are now a huge and permanent feature of the Chinese TV landscape”, according to co-organiser Georges Leclere, CEO of LGMA.
Leclere’s claim is borne out by the statistics, which reveal that there have been as many foreign formats acquired in 2011 alone — 10 at the last count — as in the entire previous decade. “In other words, this is a market that is about to explode,” Leclere says.
Against this background, it is no surprise that China Format Day drew speakers from around the globe and across the format ecosystem, including All3Media consultant Florian Fettweis of CMMI, Eyeworks’ Oliver Fuchs, FremantleMedia’s Xiaosu Wu, SevenOne International’s He Yan and ITV Studios’ Nancy Wang. Flying the flag for FRAPA were board members Robert Chua, founder and chairman of Hong Kong-based Health & Lifestyle Channel, and Format People Michel Rodrigue and Justin Scroggie.
Following a Format People presentation on the current state of the global format market and its rise from “a zero business in 1995 to a €10bn-plus industry today”, Rodrigue donned his FRAPA hat to explain what the Association is, what it does — “and what it could do for Chinese format players”. The session included a big-screen demonstration of FRAPA’s online price calculator and contract generator, illustrating the ease-of-use and practical advantages of these members-only tools. “The reaction was very positive,” Rodrigue reports. “There were a lot of questions from the Chinese delegates as to how FRAPA could help them not only to protect their own IP, but to be seen as trustworthy players by the international community.”
Rodrigue’s advice to Chinese formatters looking to make it on the global stage is succinct: “The key is to listen to the people who know how to do it. The transfer of expertise is essentially what the format business is all about. The Chinese need to look at the way the industry is run in the Western world and adopt that approach, rather than try to impose the Chinese TV system on the rest of world.” The proof, he points out, is in the pudding. The Chinese producers that have had success with Western formats — such as new FRAPA member Enlight Media, which drew huge audiences with its local version of The X Factor for Liaoning TV — are the ones that have followed the Western model. “And the ones who didn’t have failed miserably,” he adds.
As for China’s dire reputation on the IP-protection front, Leclere is pragmatic. “Yes, piracy does still exist, but only with obscure little formats on obscure little channels,” he says. “It’s no longer a problem with the big international formats — the top-20 shows like The X Factor, Clash of the Choirs and The Generation Show that are now airing on the major stations. SARFT [State Administration of Radio, Film and Television] cracked down hard on IP piracy in 2008, with the result that China is now a very much safer environment for formats.” Leclere also makes the point that, as China moves from a buyers’ to a sellers’ market, so the temptation to rip off formats will lessen. “At the moment, the Chinese are still buying formats. But the next step will be devising their own shows and selling them to the world. Once that happens, they’ll want to protect their assets as much as anyone else.”