ENLIGHT MEDIA — the largest independent production company in China — is used to blazing a trail. It was the first Chinese producer to recognise the potential of The X Factor, which it reversioned for Liaoning TV to the sort of telephone-number success that can only happen in a country of 1.34 billion people. It has pioneered marketing and branded entertainment in its home market, counting partnerships with more than 500 superbrands, including Apple, Pepsi, Nokia and P&G. It has the largest terrestrial TV network in China, providing entertainment, music, health, lifestyle, fashion and reality content to 200-plus city channels, along with state broadcaster CCTV and more than 10 provincial satellite channels.
And now, it has become the first Chinese member of FRAPA.
“We hope that FRAPA membership will help us to be recognised as a serious player in the formats business, and one that welcomes the transfer of expertise through hands-on consultation,” says Enlight’s president, Wang Changtian. “We are proud to be the first Chinese member of FRAPA and hope that our gesture will be an example to other companies looking to build a solid, trustworthy format business in Asia.”
The move is a clear signal of Enlight’s mission to become the go-to format specialist in China — an ambition that it is already some way towards fulfilling. Alongside The X Factor, the company has successfully produced several Western formats for Chinese broadcasters, including Clash of The Choirs for CCTV. And there’s more to come in 2012, including a second season of The X Factor and the launch of RTI’s children’s talent show Io Canto. It has also forged relationships with FremantleMedia, Endemol, SevenOne, Talpa, ITV Studios, All3Media, Bomanbridge and Absolutely Independent, the first fruits of which are due to air in 2012.
This busy production schedule points to a problem that will be familiar to many Westerners contemplating the Chinese market, summed up by Wang Changtian as “the need to choose the right local production company to ensure the first-class quality of your formats and brand”. He adds: “There are more than 50 satellite television stations in China, but few of them are capable of producing large-scale formats. Enlight is the one and only company in China able to produce more than one major format at a time.”
Given the speed with which the Chinese format market is developing, this is a valuable skill. Wang Changtian puts the current format boom into perspective, explaining that only two foreign formats a year broke into China between 2006 and 2009. Then, in 2010, the figure jumped to 10 formats a year, soaring to 20 in 2011. “And I believe there will be more than 30 formats on air next year,” he adds. “The format market has become really hot. The top-ranking programmes in China are now all formats — China’s Got Talent, The X Factor, Take Me Out, Clash of the Choirs, The Generation, My Man Can…”
But while the future is certainly filled with opportunity for Enlight, there are challenges too — not least China’s dismal reputation in the area of IP piracy. The company’s vice-president, Su Ming admits that respect for IP rights “is not really strong in China” and that copycatting and plagiarism remain an ongoing problem. In addition, Chinese production standards fall short of those demanded by the international market. Against this backdrop, Enlight is focused on improving the calibre of local Chinese productions while championing the recognition of IP and legal rights in its home market.
“We have a long way to go and it will be a challenge to build a standardised and professional market for formats,” Su Ming acknowledges. “But as a member of FRAPA, we want to send out the message that we respect intellectual property and legal rights, and that, with our first-class production team of more than 300 directors and producers, we are the obvious choice for international format companies seeking a trustworthy and experienced Chinese partner.”