Local Partnerships Key for Asian Localization of IP, Say TV Heavyweights at ATF

Local partnerships emerged as the agreed-upon key to success for a panel of senior television executives discussing Asian localization of IP at an informative panel during the Asia TV Forum and Market on Thursday.

Panelists included Ella Umansky, VP of format acquisitions, ITV Studios; Fenton Bailey, executive producer at “RuPaul’s Drag Race” producer World of Wonder; and Sanmesh Thakur, executive VP and territory head, APAC, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. Rahul Raman, VP of sales and global partnerships at 108 Media, moderated the discussion.

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“Asia is fascinating because, outside of Asia, we’re often pulling from a similar cultural pool, we’re reading the same articles, watching the same films, the same TV,” said Umansky. “Coming to Asia, there is an opportunity to have a slightly different approach to what we would consider to be traditional mechanisms.”

Talking about local adaptability issues, Umansky said that the budget is always a challenge, whether it is in Asia or elsewhere, but that could be overcome by conversations with local partners. Sponsorship or product integration could help fix the budget gaps, Umansky said. “Those conversations can help a lot, because Asian audiences do tend to be quite familiar with that process,” Umansky said. “There’s a way of integrating brands so that they become part of the creative [process] and not just an add on.”

Thakur said that Zee took the learnings gleaned from catering to diverse audiences in India and applied them globally to the Middle East and Africa. For Zee too, local partnerships are the key.

“If you come from outside and you’re trying to create something in, say Indonesia, it’s not going to be as good as if it were to be done with a local partnership. We are actively seeking those local partners,” Thakur said. The executive also spoke about “reverse experimentation” on the Tamil-language version of “Survivor,” where Zee invited participants from Malaysia and Singapore, countries with Tamil heritage, to participate in the Indian show, thereby creating additional interest in those places.

After success in the Philippines, World of Wonder is looking to expand the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” format across the rest of Asia. “We try to emphasize the fact that this is a show that is potentially universal in its appeal,” said Bailey. “The format essentially is very flexible and limitless in its appeal. At the same time, I recognize that it takes time, you can’t just land and say, ‘we’re here.’ I understand that cultural sensitivity.”

“There’s multiple formats in multiple countries and at the core of it, our goal is to make every version really unique and authentic to that country,” Bailey added. “The format is there as an organizing principle, but we want the show to be different and it is because everybody on the show is an artist in their own right. So working with producers on the ground is so crucial to us. And we’re very collaborative about that.”

Later, speaking with Variety, Umansky said, “The thing with Asia is that there are fantastic producers, they know what they’re doing. They’re very familiar with the traditional format beats, but they’re coming at it with a slightly different rhythm to it.”

” ‘The Masked Singer’ does not feel like a brand that would have originated outside of Asia, to me, because I think that it is coming with a real sense of fun. Whereas I think the kind of where we are at the moment in the U.K., we always ask the question, ‘why,’ which I think it’s very important thing to ask. But what a lot of Asian content can do is just bring the ‘why not,’ it’s full of joy,” Umansky added.

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