TVA Web Exclusive: Interview with Sherman Lee, Controller, International Business, TVBI

At Hong Kong FILMART this year, held from March 24-27, free-to-air broadcaster TVB commanded the largest booth in the exhibition space. Television Asia Plus met up with Sherman Lee, Controller, International Business, TVBI at Hong Kong FILMART 2014, and sounded him out on TVB’s objectives at the market.


Asia China FILMART HK FILMART HKTDC Hong Kong Hong Kong FILMART Indonesia Japan Korea Sherman Lee Taiwan TVB TVB International TVBC TVBI TVBS

What were the main objectives for TVB to be present here this year?

FILMART is a very important event — it’s the second largest TV and film industry exhibition in the world — and as the leading TV station in Hong Kong, we have to be present. And it’s also encouraged by the HKTDC (Hong Kong Trade Development Council) to promote the industry.

Our role is quite special. We are a TV station, and we produce programmes ourselves. We have our own production team, our own TVB management talent — that’s why our production is so consistent — so we can provide good quality programmes. Together with our terrestrial TV broadcast content, we also have our Network Vision channel that is on a subscription basis. So in the past 40 years, we have our operations in TVBS Taiwan. We just formed a joint venture company in China called TVBC, and we have all our TVB overseas platforms. Altogether our clients, in fact our position, is quite unique, because all the business is almost fixed. But this time, we want to have a bigger booth in order to let the people know we are not only a TV station — we are a company that can create very new content for the new generation. Because we’re concerned that nowadays people do not really like to watch content on TV because it’s a linear channel — whenever I want to watch, whenever I have time to watch, I’ll watch.

So we’ve tried to create some content to cater to the new generation. We are still in the experimental stage, because in the past 47 years, we’ve been doing the very traditional type of programming. And now, time has changed. People don’t need a very formal, full developed story. They want something very unique — that’s why we have that A Time of Love project.

So on this FILMART occasion, we want to show to the world, to all these clients, that we are in a transition period — not only the existing productions we regularly provide our clients overseas, we also have some other new products. First of all, TVBC, our joint venture company, has started doing investment in China to have more content. They started the iTVB app, which is an app in China where they can watch TV content through the app interactively. Whenever we want to promote whatever content we have, you can download apps and get firsthand information. Also, in China, when a TV programme is an imported programme, we have to get approval, be subject to quotas. But if we joint venture with any independent production house in China or TV station, it becomes a local production. This gives us more chances to explore business opportunities. So this is one aspect.

Secondly, TVBS in Taiwan, our wholly-owned subsidiary, has started doing drama productions. Last year, they had 40 hours; this year they have 130; next year 260. By 2016, they will be increased to over 400. And those products are in fact tailored for the young generation. We see this as an opportunity and we want to show to all our clients all the non-traditional markets, all the non-Chinese speaking markets. This is something new, like Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Myammar, South Africa, India — all the non-Chinese speaking community. This is important, because the existing business is almost saturated. The increment is very minimal. That’s why we want to further develop our production line to different areas. So A Time of Love is one, TVB.com is one, everything is like one phase of work. Content is king.

Let’s talk about some of the buyers and clients you have met so far. What are they saying about the changes that are being made? What are they asking for?

Normally, in China and Taiwan, China, in terms of the production skill, is huge. Like the production budget, it’s like 10 times of whatever TVB spends, and 20 times of Singapore productions. And also the variety programmes — it’s huge. Before, when the Chinese people watch variety, they watch only like Taiwanese variety shows. Now the talent shows that they have…  One thing is they have a very big, very huge pool – 1.4 billion people. And then they use the internet, social networking to search for these people; whoever wants to join, just come. The production houses or the TV stations in China, they have very good conditions to produce good quality programmes, and the return is good because the market is huge.

But in Hong Kong, we are facing different risks, so we have to be creative. What is creative? We have to think of something that doesn’t clash with all the Chinese productions. So it is difficult. The mini-movie is one of the projects last year, as well as A Time of Love. In the coming months this year, we have another project but we haven’t finalised all the details. But I’m sure that will be like a co-production with either Japan, Korea, or other Southeast Asian countries. They feel that this is a very good idea — as long as TVB has some opportunities for them to join in, like the China productions, it’s a free hand. We can also use our talents to be one of the actors or actresses in the drama, and it satisfies our talents’ needs.

You were talking just now about how the businesses to Chinese-speaking countries are more or less saturated, and you are looking at the non-Chinese speaking territories. Which countries are of particular interest?

Korea, Japan, Indonesia. These are quite important markets for us.



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