International rights holders/distributors talk about this year’s most significant trends in Asia and what’s having the biggest impact on their business in the region.
In about a month, at the beginning of October, 18 Disney/Fox linear channels disappear from Asia’s video landscape, ending one era and opening whole new opportunities across the board, not least a slew of existing and new linear service providers, who are already rushing in.
The changing linear landscape, and the exit of a major buyer, has also opened up gaps for distributors and content providers. We asked them what happens now.
The answers were pretty much a consensus: Yes, it’s sad that Disney is pulling the plug. But we’re all grown ups here, the move was not unexpected, and other buyers are stepping up. Far from ringing the death knell for traditional platforms, many say there’s lots of life left in free-TV, and that pay-TV providers are also reinventing their products in line with changing audience behaviour.
“We’re seeing this as an opportunity,” says Nicole Sinclair, ViacomCBS’ VP, client relations for South Asia (Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, India).
“It’s sad that the Fox channels are going away, but for us it creates other opportunities with other clients,” she says, adding that the return of big-brand properties and spin-offs such as CSI: Vegas and FBI: International later this year drives interest.
“The linear channels were strong partners for our content, so it is sad to see them go. However, change is part of the industry change and it has been exciting finding and creating new opportunities elsewhere,” says Sabrina Duguet, All3media International’s EVP Asia Pacific.
Rashmi Bajpai, Banijay Rights’ EVP Asia, says the pan-Asian linear broadcasters “were integral to our growth and success. So this heralds a structural change of approach in our business, one that we have started to deal with across the region by opening up new avenues”.
BBC Studios’ Asia SVP/GM, Phil Hardman, is also in the new-opportunities camp.
“This is part of a global evolution of the media industry in response to audience preferences and increasing priority of direct to consumer offers,” he says.
Free TV networks are picking up some of the slack. “Free TV is still a big part of our business,” Sinclair says.
Henry Or, Boat Rocker Media’s SVP, strategic partnerships, Asia, says a high percentage of his business is with local broadcasters, so the impact of the exit of regional linear channels is negligible.
“We are actually selling more factual content than previous year,” Or says.
Jetpack Distribution’s global sales director, Sophie “Kido” Prigent, has also noticed an uptick. “We’re noticing that the channels are picking back up and we are receiving new offers,” she says.
Joanne Azzopardi, Beyond Rights’ EVP sales for Australia/New Zealand and Asia, says her experience with linear services is similar.
“Definitely VOD is predicted to continue to grow exponentially however linear is also still strong, especially in markets where OTT is not as accessible,” she says.
Ganesh Rajaram, Fremantle’s GM, EVP Sales – Asia, and Kelly Wright, Keshet International’s SVP distribution/new business, also say there is more interest from free-to-air stations and localised platforms in shows that previously had first windows on pan-regional linear channels.
In Japan and Korea, there’s still steady business from basic and pay-TV and the appetite for procedurals remains strong, says Jonathan Greenburg, EVP, television licensing regional sales, North Asia for ViacomCBS global distribution group. China continues to be steady.
But, he adds, “we are also seeing a lot more SVOD platforms – including Coupang in Korea and Hulu in Japan – acquiring first-run and premium series”.
Revamps at traditional networks – including the return of Cartoonito at WarnerMedia – are also cause for optimism.
“In the kids space, as much as we prefer to have a vast choice of partners for the exposure of our shows on linear, we also welcome the announcement of Warner launching Cartoonito,” says Jetpack Distribution’s Prigent.
At the same time, she has the rollout of HBO Max in Asia on her radar and says she will of course “continue our conversations with Disney+”.
There’s little argument about SVOD platforms driving growth.
All3media International’s Duguet speaks about the strong dynamic created by competition between SVOD platforms in Asia.
“More competition means a greater need for the platforms and channels to stand out and be innovative. Ultimately this is good for creators and content providers,” she says.
“Titles are slowly finding their homes on digital platforms in Asia and this is only going to grow,” says Jimmy George, GoQuest Media’s sales and acquisition VP.
Few disagree, although some point out that there is no clarity yet on the final outcome of the streaming wars in Asia.
Overall, most say it’s too early – and maybe never possible – to pick one factor in the “biggest impact” stakes.
Disney/Fox channels’ exit is part of a broad shift that combines with the rise of local, regional and on-demand/streaming, the likelihood of further industry consolidation, and the pandemic.
Down to details, it’s also too early to say if the volume of content going to streaming services in Asia will equal or exceed the amount that regional linear channels used to buy – or if the genres will be the same.
“The biggest impact is yet to be seen,” says Teremoana Seguin, Harbour Rights’ managing director. “Too early to say,” says Reel One Entertainment’s international distribution manager, Mai Aboelfadle. Beyond Rights’ Azzopardi agrees. It is, she says, “still too soon”.
One thing is for sure: there’s more than enough to go around to satisfy every Asian taste.
ViacomCBS’ Sinclair quotes ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group president, Dan Cohen: “We have plenty of content to go around”.
THE IMPACT OF COVID-19
Most distributors, not surprisingly, put Covid-19 at the top of their lists of factors impacting their business in Asia this year. How could they not?
Covid-19 and widespread containment measures have impacted Fremantle’s business in two ways, Rajaram says.
The first is acquisition budgets for finished programmes, which have been affected, and the second is the rollout of localised formats.
“The formats which we’ve sold to clients have had their productions held back because of Covid-19,” he adds.
Of course he’s not alone.
“With every new wave of Covid-19 we have seen and been faced with productions and schedules being postponed in almost every Asian territory,” says Ayesha Surty, ITV Studios Global Entertainment’s SVP licensing for Asia,
The flip side to this, she adds, is “an increased agility and flexibility from partners and distributors alike”.
WarnerMedia’s head of TV distribution & home entertainment, Jae Chang, highlights Covid-19’s impact on windowing.
“Covid-19 has affected all sides of media businesses leading into reshaping of windowing in our traditional business. Many territories closed their cinemas due to lock-down and theatrical release wasn’t feasible or significantly delayed resulting in new windowing strategy,” he says.
“As we move into the future, the new windowing paradigm will continue to be one of the key impact for our business in Asia,” Chang adds.
“Covid-19 with all its implications meant that the economy plummeted. Advertising budgets were reduced, which meant financing projects got increasingly difficult. Productions were on hold. Travel suspended. We relied on library titles to fill scheduling gaps,” adds Banijay Rights’ Bajpai.
At the same time, the pandemic led to increased in-home consumption. In turn, digital platforms upped acquisitions.
“Covid has ensured there is an increased viewership across all digital platforms, this has also ensured a majority of these digital platforms have increased their budgets and are open to trying out more content,” says Nitin Michael, SynProNize’s founder and managing director.
Budgets can be all over the place across the region though.
“In some cases clients are still experiencing very limited acquisition spending. In other instances there is a greater appetite for positive, uplifting, entertaining content and our children’s educational content... channels and services that have never normally carried children’s content have started to do so,” says Beyond Rights’ Azzopardi.
“There is now a greater focus on local programming,” Banijay Rights’ Bajpai says. “The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a surge in viewership. The increase in content consumption has led to a greater demand in acquisitions and original productions,” she says.
BBC Studios’ Hardman agrees. “There is increasing investment in originals and exclusive content across the region,” he says.
Buyers in Asia are also a lot more selective.
“2021 is all about ‘selection & concentration’ when it comes to content acquisitions,” says WarnerMedia’s Chang.
“It’s becoming difficult to do a volume deal as compare to the past and media players are more selective on their preference than before,” he says.
SynProNize’s Michael notes a greater openness. “The shift has primarily been with online players being more open to experiment with content from newer geographies than before,” he says.
They are also more focused on value.
“The main trend is buying more economically and asking for longer license period or more runs in order to improve their KPI,” Harbour Rights Seguin says.
Cake’s sales director, Julien Farçat, says “budget constraints and the need to acquire more kids’ content during the pandemic have meant that some broadcasters renewed series or focused on non-dialogue content to help them face the challenges ahead.”
AND NOW WHAT?
Distributors are mostly united on their solutions to dealing with a fast-shifting environment.
Closer working partnerships to monitor uncertain and fast-changing situations on the ground. And, given all the travel restrictions, new ways of connecting remotely.
“We are working on a daily basis with our partners to understand the situation in each individual territory,” Keshet’s Wright says.
The answer, says Reel One Entertainment’s Mai Aboelfadle, is “finding new ways to build partnerships without the ability to travel. We have been more creative in how we get our content across”.
And so say all of them.
Published in ContentAsia's September 2021 magazine