Acquisitions on the rise in Asia

What a difference a year makes. Last year the Asian programming market was hammered by falling currencies. This year, thanks in part to Pokémon and the growing popularity of Dragonball Z, things are looking up. In 'Acquisitions on the rise in...
December 1, 1999

What a difference a year makes. Last year the Asian programming market was hammered by falling currencies. This year, thanks in part to Pokémon and the growing popularity of Dragonball Z, things are looking up. In ‘Acquisitions on the rise in Asia,’ we explore the evolving broadcasting landscape out East. Next, ‘Hot new anime vies to ride Pokémon wave’ (page 36) scores the lowdown on what’s getting raves in Japan. Finally, ‘Localizing licensing leads to Asian success’ (page 38) delivers the keys to ensuring Pacific Rim show sales spawn merchandise that moves.

The Asian broadcasting scene is a sophisticated and constantly evolving puzzle, but it’s worth the navigational challenge.

Over the past six months, Asia has entered a ‘recovery phase’ after last year’s economic downturn, says Jodie McAfee, VP of marketing for Kermit Channel and Hallmark Entertainment Network. Sources say license fees have remained fairly stable, and Stan Golden, president of Saban International, estimates the currency crisis caused a drop of about 20% at most. The economic downturn affected the number of acquisitions more than the prices paid, Golden adds, and acquisitions are now starting to pick up again.

As of early 1999, program prices in Asia ranged from an astonishing low of US$100 to US$150 in Macau for a commercial half-hour acquisition to US$5,000 per commercial half hour acquired by terrestrial services in Japan.

The Asian broadcasting community is a huge player in the global kids TV market, accounting for almost a quarter of total global spending on production and acquisitions. According to Screen Digest’s The Business of Children’s Television, of the US$480 million spent on kids programming in Asia, Japan spends the most by a long shot with annual broadcaster expenditures totaling about US$440 million. This compares to expenditures totaling about US$860 million for North America and about US$700 million for Western Europe.

Japan’s dominance in Asia is largely a reflection of the country’s strong production community, which boasts such goliaths as Toei and Nippon Animation. But while such companies have a sizable output by any standard, until recently, it was pretty much for local use only. ‘Outside the U.S., Japan has the most self-sustaining media business,’ says Golden.

Among the terrestrials, none really dominate in the kids arena. In Japan, daytime viewing by kids ages four to 12 is fairly evenly divided between Fuji TV (4.1%), NTV (3.4%), Asahi (2.3%), Tokyo TV (2.2%), TBS (1.9%) and NHK (0.8%), according to audience shares from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter published in April 1998.

At Japan’s Fuji TV, a terrestrial broadcaster belonging to the Fuji Network System, acquired or commissioned Japanese animation fills almost all of the six hours of kids programming aired weekly, says Toru Miyazawa of the programming and production department. The remainder consists of a live-action/animated show called P-kies, produced by Fuji Creative Corporation, during which Fuji TV runs Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends from the U.K.’s Britt Allcroft Company as a segment.

Outside Japan, Asian services typically acquire, and Japanese animation makes up a high percentage of those acquisitions. Even Cartoon Network has incorporated local anime to make up about 40% of its Japanese service’s schedule and roughly 10% of its Taiwanese feed. Still, to varying degrees, Asian programmers do look overseas for programming, and when they do, action-driven shows such as X-Men (Marvel Entertainment/Fox Broadcasting/

PolyGram) and classics based on literary properties, such as Oliver Twist, do best, says Saban’s Golden.

In South Korea, MBC’s six-plus hours of kids TV per week includes more than two hours each of in-house productions and Western acquisitions, with the remainder consisting of Japanese animation, says movie and program acquisition manager Jongmin Kim. The terrestrial broadcaster has an annual children’s acquisitions budget of about US$300,000, and is interested in foreign animated series, preferably 2-D, with realistic story lines and a ‘cute’ style, such as Gadget Boy (distributed by Disney), which it airs Thursday and Friday afternoons.

Hong Kong’s World channel, a niche English-language terrestrial service from Asia Television Limited (ATV), is required to air at least two hours of kids TV per day. This is typically acquired from the West, says controller Shuen-shuen Hung. The amount of programming it acquires is also affected by a stipulation that it cannot air a single episode more than twice in two years. World’s Chinese-language counterpart, ATV’s Home channel, tends to air Japanese animation as well as local productions and a few Western acquisitions. For World, Hung trolls for shows that combine entertainment and education.

International cable and satellite channels are beginning to set up shop in Asia, but established terrestrials are reacting differently in different regions. While some are launching new programming blocks and looking at rebranding (see ‘STV 12 unveils Kids Central,’ page 11 and ‘NHK targets preschoolers to compete with private sector casters,’ page 14), others are taking a wait-and-see approach. This is mainly because cable penetration varies so much within the Asian region. For example, while sources estimate that 80% of TV homes in Taiwan have cable, the figure is only 7% to 8% for cable and satellite in Malaysia. But, says Bruce Tuchman, GM of global network ventures at Nickelodeon Inter-national, that means vast potential: ‘Rates of growth year on year are tremendous and far greater than they are in the more developed cable markets of the U.S. and in some places in Western Europe.’

Besides Nick’s recent launches in Asia, Cartoon Network expanded to the region in 1994, Disney Channel kicked off in 1995, and Kermit Channel and Fox Kids have arrived since late last year. Local expansion into cable and satellite is still rare, but South Korea’s animation channel Tooniverse and Singapore’s educational channel Eureka, a service of Singapore Cable Vision, are two examples.

The internationals are poised to make a big impact, they say, since most offer full-day services targeted primarily at kids, while terrestrials tend to be broad-audience services with limited slots for kids TV. Celia Chong, senior VP and GM of Turner Entertainment Networks Asia, says Cartoon Network has also prompted more Asian awareness of the importance of kids as both viewers and consumers with their own spending power and pester power over their parents’ purchase decisions.

While all have their own libraries, some internationals are in the market for acquisitions from Western producers and distributors. Disney Channel acquires non-Disney-branded programming for 10% to 20% of its schedule from producers in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Cartoon has picked up some Australian animation, but is drawing heavily from its library. For now, Nick and Fox are filling their skeds entirely with library product.

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