THE ASIAN television industry will not fully embrace format protection until format theft starts biting chunks out of its bottom line.

This is the view of Asian TV pioneer Robert Chua, founder and CEO of Health & Lifestyle Channel (HLC) and long-time FRAPA board member. Chua, who has spent 48 years at the epicentre of Asian TV, is not afraid to call an IP infringer a pirate. “There is not much format protection in Asia, because the big boys seldom resort to the law to stop even blatant format theft, let alone ‘adaptations’ of their shows that might infringe their IP,” he says. “There are many Asian countries that still need to be treated with care in terms of format protection, including sophisticated markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore.”

But times are changing. “Recently, several leading broadcasters in China have been lobbying Beijing to establish some sort of legal protection for their own local formats,” Chua reports. “This has to be a good sign for the region as a whole.”

Against this backdrop, FRAPA has a clear role to play — not least because of the Asian TV market’s massive, but largely unmined, potential and the interest that it is consequently attracting from western formateers. However, Chua issues a word of warning: “Many overseas formats fail to perform in Asia because they have not been properly adapted to our taste and culture. But the success of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? shows what can be achieved with even the smallest of judicious tweaks.”

As for Asian formats moving westwards, Japan remains the only significant exporter in the region, says Chua, who has just returned from the Shanghai Television Festival (STVF). Encouragingly, he says the mood of the market was “overall optimistic”, undoubtedly fuelled by the success of the World Expo, which is helping to position Shanghai as the ‘next great world city’.

“As usual, there were lots of drama and animation on offer,” he adds. “But — again as usual — I saw very few good formats.” FRAPA members take note.

Meanwhile HLC, which began life in 2005 as The Interactive Channel before segueing into the burgeoning health and wellbeing market in 2008, continues to break new ground in both user-friendly interactivity and ‘responsible’ broadcasting. Chua describes the channel’s mission as being “to serve the people” with trustworthy news, entertainment and information covering the spectrum of health and lifestyle issues. The aim, he says, is to harness “simple interactivity to allow our viewers to interact with our content via their landline, mobile or PC”.