|James Ross: “Asia is a huge opportunity”|
THE FIRST outing of Formats Asia in late October — the new formats summit and networking event set up by ex-ITV Global’s Asia chief James Ross — confirmed what has become increasingly clear in the past couple of years: that Asian broadcasters have discovered the power of the format and are eager to engage more actively in the business.
It was to ease this process — or, as Ross puts it, “help oil the wheels” — that Formats Asia was born. “We felt there was a bit of a vacuum,” adds Ross, who started Hong Kong-based distributor Lightening International in May 2011 to facilitate the flow of content in and out of Asia. “Local production to international standards has been sorely lacking in this region until the last couple of years. So we thought it would help move the Asian formats industry along if we provided a platform for everybody involved — from creators and producers to branded-content players and broadcasters — to come together to talk about what works and what doesn’t; to discuss international standards and regulatory issues; and to exchange ideas about collaborative ventures and how to be creative with finance.”
That there is a need for such a forum is clear from the reaction to the inaugural Formats Asia. Ross reports that the event — strategically scheduled to piggyback on the CASBAA broadcast convention in Hong Kong — attracted more attendees than expected, including broadcasters and producers from 15 territories.
Reaction to the conference programme was also “fantastically positive”, he adds, citing as particular highlights the sessions on innovative finance — a relatively new concept to Asia — BBC Worldwide’s experiences of launching Dancing With the Stars in India and China, and NHK’s success with its whacky, social media-driven late-night show Good Night Japan, which aims to be so boring that it puts the nation to sleep. Speakers included Big Face Entertainment Japan’s Shingo Ishiyama, BBC Worldwide Productions India’s Myleeta Aga and Sony Pictures Television’s Ricky Ow.
|The inaugural Formats Asia attracted producers and broadcasters from 15 territories|
Also on the bill was Star China Media’s Judy Chan, who explained that, thanks to China’s regulations regarding ‘excessive entertainment’, the Chinese version of The Voice is focused more on celebrating singing and culture than creating celebrities. For Ross, this illustrates a salient point — that Asia is not one territory, but around 20 very different countries, all with unique cultures, regulatory environments and entertainment preferences. “People in the West often think they can apply a one-size-fits-all approach Asia,” he adds. “But you can’t. You have to think about it territory by territory.”
His other advice to Western format players looking to the East is to forget about short-term gains. Succeeding in Asia, he says, is about building relationships, demonstrating commitment and investing hard work and effort over several years. “But if you’re prepared to be in it for the long-haul, then the potential is great,” he adds. “After all, we’re talking about half the world’s population living in Asia, a television industry that is still very under-developed in many parts of the region, low penetration and a massive appetite for good, innovative, exciting content from audiences who haven’t perhaps had a great selection of programming in the past. It’s a bit of cliché, I know, but Asia is a huge opportunity.”