What does FremantleMedia’s latest Asia reorg really mean?

FremantleMedia is writing a new chapter in its Asia production story, one with decentralisation at its heart, smaller regional management, and a shift in existing creative resources between Asian capitals. 

A large part of the future action is set in China, India and Indonesia, with the overall tone shaped by regional HQ in Australia. 

Singapore has been stripped of its regional corporate/management role, becoming a production centre for regional projects such as, hopefully, the second season of mega-format Asia’s Got Talent. Thailand, where FremantleMedia has a small production outfit, will report into Singapore.

FremantleMedia’s regional sales/licensing/distribution team in Singapore under Ganesh Rajaram is unaffected by the change, and will still be responsible for format sales across Southeast Asia. 

Digital content development and strategies will sit within individual business units, with a global function in New York working with local divisions. 

The obvious question being asked in the days following the announcement (ContentAsia Insider, 22 July 2015) is: What does the new structure really mean for FremantleMedia and, if anything, for the rest of the industry?

The most likely answer is this: lower costs and good optics. Which markets, after all, don’t like to be told they’re big and powerful enough to be autonomous? 

Across the region, “we’re giving people more resources on the ground”, says Ian Hogg, FremantleMedia’s regional chief executive officer for Australia and Asia Pacific. He also says that the new structure mirrors the company’s operations in Europe and other parts of the world.

It’s also decentralisation’s turn in the well-rehearsed cycle of international media businesses operating in the region. It’s not an unfamiliar situation and it’s by no means restricted to production companies or to FremantleMedia.

What the latest turn means for FremantleMedia’s production business in Asia this time is more direct reporting into Australia, some cost savings, shuffling creative resources, and an indication of the high hopes the company has for China and its new joint venture with the Shanghai Media Group/BesTV and China Media Capital. The venture was announced in April. 

The company’s hopes for the China venture centre around creating original IP that broadcasts in China on Dragon TV and BesTV, and beyond through FremantleMedia International. The first original show is scheduled to air in 2016, Hogg says. 

Former regional managing director Paul O’Hanlon’s new role as creative director for China adds heavyweight creative support to FremantleMedia’s ambitions in China. The China business is being driven by newly appointed managing director, Vivian Yin (ContentAsia Insider, 14 July 2015). O’Hanlon takes up his new position in 2016 after time off from mid-September to welcome a new baby.  

The China joint venture was put together by O’Hanlon’s now-disbanded regional team in Asia, with a key role played by chief operating officer Michelle Landy. Landy exits the Asia operation as part of the restructure. 

 FremantleMedia doesn’t disclose financials, but going by the number of shows on air, the outfit is currently Asia’s second biggest format distributor. 

Market leader Endemol Shine is a long way ahead, with about three times as many titles on air or commissioned across the region in the 12 months to end March this year, according to ContentAsia’s Formats Outlook Q2 2015.

This year so far, FremantleMedia has about 14 shows on-air or production in Southeast Asia, including Asia’s Got Talent which ran to mid-May. The figure excludes China and India. 

Regionally, CBS Studios is third in number of titles, with at least eight series – mostly versions of Next Top Model – either on air or commissioned during the 12 months to the end of March this year, according to ContentAsia’s Formats Outlook. 

Apart from the flagship regional Asia’s Got Talent, FremantleMedia’s 2015 slate includes six shows in Vietnam – Hole in the Wall, Project Runway Vietnam, Perfect Score Vietnam, The Price is Right Vietnam, Vietnam Idol, My Mom Cooks Better than Yours, which goes into production in August. 

The other seven include three in Myanmar (Got Talent, Family Feud, Idol, which is in pre-production and scheduled to air in November), and two in Thailand (Got Talent, The Price is Right). The remaining two are in Cambodia (Idol, already on air) and Mongolia (Got Talent, in production).

Whatever is unclear about the way ahead, the one definite thing FremantleMedia did in Asia this year that bust every barrier and had the entire industry united in hope was Asia’s Got Talent for Sony Pictures Television Networks’ AXN. 

The regional talent format broke records on numerous fronts. The show had, among other online stats, upwards of 100 million YouTube views. Two weeks after the 14 May series’ finale on Sony Pictures Television Networks’ AXN, online engagement continued with more than 276 million minutes watched on YouTube and likes/comments hitting 380,000. 

Inevitably, links are being made between the uber-expensive format and the restructure two months after the finale. Hopes are/were that the format would set new budget and production quality standards for regional production in the region. And it did. For now though, with all eyes on the costs FremantleMedia is taking out of the business, hopes of matching those any time soon are receding.