INTERVIEW: Anne Jakrajutatip, CEO, JKN Global Media (Thailand)

JKN Global Media CEO Anne Jakrajutatip has created a whole new footprint for Thai content outside Thailand and is generating unprecedented energy for Indian and Philippines’ content inside. She talked to ContentAsia about what she’s doing, why and how.   

When Bangkok-based distributor JKN Global Media sold 265 hours of local drama into Korea a few weeks ago, a new era opened for Thai drama. “Thai production and storytelling have evolved; we can appeal to a highly sophisticated market like Korea,” says chief executive Anne Jakrajutatip. 

There are solid reasons. Production budgets, even though these are still a quarter or less than in Korea, have increased; volume is up; filmmakers are moving into television, bringing with them a higher-end theatrical look and feel; and post production skills, which have long been a selling point for Thailand in the region, remain among the strongest in the region. 

At the top end, per-episode drama budgets are in the range of THB1.5 million/US$49,000 to THB2 million/US$66,000 (excluding lead actors), up from an average of THB1 million/US$33,000 18 months ago.

JKN Global Media’s September deal in Korea puts eight drama series from Thai free-TV Channel 3 onto TRA Media’s national cable channels, Smile TV Plus (entertainment), which has 26.1 million households, and TVA Plus (Asian drama channel), which is distributed to 12.6 million households. The agreement marks Channel 3 owner BEC World’s debut in the Korean market, and is part of a drive to expand its international footprint. Series going to TRA include Love Destiny, Thong Ek – Herbal Master, Nakee the series and Tales of the Two Cities.

An old hand at Asian content acquisition for Thailand, Jakrajutatip has driven a Thai content export agenda for the past 18 months, opening new opportunities for Thai drama series, documentaries and movies. In addition to the landmark Korean deal, JKN Global Media has sold Thai content in Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and Singapore, much of it for the first time.  

The marketing initiative comes with the rah-rah fanfare Jakrajutatip has made her calling card. “You have to be the ambassador of your own product and you have to be the product,” she said on the eve of JKN Global Media’s fourth annual upfronts and showcase in Bangkok in mid-September. “We’re selling content... we have to entertain people. You just cannot be boring,” she said. 

As if. 

Much of Jakrajutatip’s life is captured on camera for an audience, including her own talk show, Anne Show, broadcast on the JKN Dramax channel and on JKN’s official YouTube channel, which has 90,000 followers. Jakrajutatip’s official Instagram account has more than 55,000 followers. On Facebook, she has upwards of 400,000 followers. A September Facebook post with Jakrajutatip’s OK! magazine cover hit one million likes, almost 11,000 comments and more than 7,000 shares in 10 days. 

“I’m quite lucky that I’m a celebrity in Thailand,” she says. “Basically I’m on screen almost every day... I keep talking about content. A camera crew follows me everywhere. This is how I build up my followers. They see the content that I bring into Thailand. They want to watch. You have to build your fan base. You have to build the audience.”

After a long career in home entertainment, including after-school stints at her family’s video rental operation, Jakrajutatip founded JKN Global Media as an independent company five years ago. She listed the company on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in November 2017. 

Initial activities involved distributing foreign content – including Indian and Philippines’ IP – in Thailand. More recently, JKN signed an exclusive deal with one of Thailand’s oldest media companies, BEC World, to distribute its drama IP internationally. 

In addition to its distribution business, JKN Global Media has four subsidiaries – JKN Channel Co Ltd, which produces the Anne Show, and other content as well as organising events, and operates the JKN Dramax ad-supported cable/satellite channel; JKN IMC, which focuses on advertising sales and integrated marketing; JKN News, which has a 10-year licence to produce CNBC-branded programming for Thailand; and, coming soon, JKN Knowledge, which will operate a training business.  

Jakrajutatip has a keen sense of what it takes to sell non-Thai content to Thai audiences in a market with an overwhelming preference for home-grown stories. “You have to transform the content into your own content,” she says. Acquiring content is step one. “I tell people all the time that we are involved in investment, not just acquisitions,” she says. 

“To drive ratings in Thailand, you need to transform programmes into Thai, not just with subtitling, or even dubbing, but in making connections with the audience with, for example, completely new original sound tracks. We bring the stars to Thailand. There’s a high-profile end-to-end 360-degree marketing strategy, including concerts, for viewers/fans to experience content and to drive them back to screens.”

For instance, JKN creates new original sound tracks for Philippines’ dramas, including My Husband’s Lover from GMA Network. The soundtracks are the basis for albums and concerts, all designed to drive audiences between platforms. She’s taken the same approach to other content over two decades with, among others, content from Discovery, BBC and History. 

But all the shiny stuff in the world won’t help a title that’s not relevant for the market. “You have to understand this first, title selection is very important,” Jakrajutatip says. 

Next on her agenda is upsizing original production, beginning with The Prince of Ayodhya, a 40-episode live-action drama based on the ancient Hindu classic, The Ramayana, with a mixed cast from Thailand and India. “This has been my inspiration since i was young,” Jakrajutatip says. The series is scheduled for release in 2021.  

Her other inspiration is Oprah Winfrey (“I watch her every night. I want to be a storyteller. I want to inspire people,” she says), and her favourite song is I Wanna Touch the Sky, which was written especially for her recently launched Lift Foundation Life Inspired for Transsexuals). The song was her idea – and she appeared in the music video. 

“No matter who you are – disadvantaged transsexual or you’re born straight but you feel that you’re not good enough, you got bullied at school and you don’t have perfect family life, whatever doesn’t matter. You can do it... everything is possible when you believe in yourself”. 

Published in ContentAsia Issue Five 2019, 3 October 2019