Thai drama had a record year across Asia, thanks in no small part of the efforts of Bangkok-based JKN Global Media. Chief executive, Anne Jakrajutatip, talks about cross-border content tastes, developing an original production ecosystem, the growth of OTT and the impact of streaming platforms on the syndication business, and her firm belief in the ongoing strength of free TV.
At the end of September this year, Bangkok-based media company, JKN Global Media, reported a 30% increase in net profit for the first nine months of the year, driven in part by massive increases in advertising revenue at JKN’s two domestic channels – JKN Dramax and JKN-CNBC/JKN News – as well as on the co-branded jkncnbc.com online platform. Export sales – predominantly drama series from BEC World/Channel 3 – were up 12.8% to THB453 million/US$15 million. At about the same time, the company shifted from Thailand’s Market for Alternative Investment (MAI), where it listed in November 2018 with a paid-up capital of THB270 million/US$9 million, to the main board of Thailand’s Stock Exchange (SET). ContentAsia spoke to her about Thai drama, the direction in which she’s taking the company, her 10+ million Facebook followers and the value of social media.
You’ve had a year of enormous success distributing Thai drama across Southeast Asia and other countries in Asia. What have you found in expanding this footprint? And where is the growth for you in the Thai drama distribution business? We have had enormous success in the past two years with BEC/Channel 3 content in Asia, including Korea and the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. Our latest focus is Latin America and South Africa; those are the two regions that we are going to penetrate progressively.
Has the rise of other streaming platforms made a difference to your licensing and syndication business in Thailand or around the world? “I’m so excited to see the growth of OTT business around the world, not just in Asia. But in Asia itself, I can see OTT fluorishing but it’s not substantial yet in terms of profit. I think a lot of the platforms are still losing money.
Free-to-air is the ultimate solution at the moment. Basically OTT will do well when we promote on free-to-air. So you need to have free-to-air... we have to focus on the main business first and then OTT. We have a few OTT clients that buy Thai drama, but it’s not a substantial business yet. Basically, we should be focusing on free-to-air, with OTT as something extra. Streaming is a difficult business... Right now, free-to-air is my main business.”
You primarily distribute drama from Channel 3, which is one of the top free-TV broadcast channels in Thailand. How come you chose Channel 3 rather than say Channel 7 or Channel 8, which are the other top three TV channels? “They are all good. Channel 3 or BEC is more International. The actors have millions of social media followers... a huge fanbase around the region. Content has to be universal, not just for Thai audiences. Channel 3 has all the criterias to travel. Their stories never let me down...”
What kinds of content and influences are you seeing among Thai audiences these days? “Local taste, always local taste. And social media influence... You really need to engage with your audience. Your fans will be fans of your product. That’s very important.”
You recently appeared on Shark Tank Thailand and bought a number of companies, which you will feature in some of your local productions for JKN. So essentially, you’re building an ecosystem... “I’m building the ecosystem, correct... For example, one of the companies I bought is a local tour company that we will work with for our new original production, Love Travels, which is a travelogue featuring a couple – probably celebrities – exploring different places.”
You talked about The Prince of Ayodhya last year, a historical drama with a strong Thai theme. Where are you with that local production? “It has been done in terms of the development and the pre-production right now is almost 80% completed. We planned to do the whole production in India, but we had to pause because of Covid-19. Hopefully we can go into production in 2021.”
You are a strong supporter of LGBTQ programming. What do you think the appetite for the genre is, in Thailand and across the region? “It’s still a niche market but it’s growing and we are including more titles. We had Khejdi last year, starring Ashish Sharma, and this year we have Love Love You, produced by Suchart Rochanakee and directed by Piawat Chaithiangthum. So there’s a gay title, a middlesex title and we will have transgender titles because I’m a trans woman... Boy Love (BL) is a new trend, even among people who are straight.”
How important is social media to your business? “The more fans that you build, the more influence that you have. So that would be good for your business as well.”
What’s your plan with your show, the Anne Show? “We have shifted it to social media, so it’s actually season one. The show used to air on TV, but I’m not allowed to say whatever I like on TV. I’m the woman without censorship, anyway! On Facebook, I get between 300,000 and a million viewers, and I can talk about whatever I want.”
Published in ContentAsia's December 2020 magazine