Arturo Casares Cortina, Advisor for Asian Countries for Mexico-based Televisa Internacional, has been involved in one of the most successful TV drama format deals in China: Ugly Betty from the original Yo soy Betty la Fea of RCN.

The Chinese language adaptation – Ugly Wudi (Chounu Wudi) – has proved a major hit since it premiered during prime time on Hunan Satellite TV. It attracted 73 million viewers on its opening night and consistently ranks as the toprating TV drama in China.

Unilever is the official sponsor for the program, with exclusive rights to ads and product placements during the show. Unilever’s marketing staff worked with the producers and script writers to integrate around 3,300 seconds of the Dove brand into the show’s first season. The Clear and Lipton’s Milk Tea brands are also promoted on the show. The deal was brokered by Unilever’s adtime- buying agency, WPP Group PLC’s Mindshare.

CMM-I met with Arturo Casares Cortina to find out more about Ugly Betty and Televisa’s plans in China.

Could you tell me more about how the Ugly Betty deal was structured?
We acted like business model consultants for the entire show. We delivered some of the basic plot lines that have contributed to the success of the Ugly Betty format in other countries. We also gave them the business model, advising them on merchandising and product placement. It is a very successful format that is very well-packaged for commercial success. We brought that business model to China, not just the story.

So how closely did you oversee the production process? Were you there on set?
No, I think it could be risky if someone from another culture tried to oversee the every day production of a format. We provide tips and consulting services on what they’re doing, not on the everyday level but at the more general, overall level of the storyline and some aspects of production. We’re not in the studio everyday but we visit often.

Taking a broader view, we operate in the same way in Mexico with our producers – not independent producers but people who are part of Televisa. At the end of the day, the producer creates the production. It’s their baby. We value their vision, that’s why we chose them as our partners. We don’t think it’s good to be in the studio all the time and actually, we cannot be there because Ugly Betty is classed as a local Chinese production.

Ugly Betty has been extremely successful in China. Throughout its first and second seasons, it consistently remained the top rating program in its timeslot.

Why do you think it has been so successful here and all over the world?
Well, I studied communications at university and one of my journalism professors had a saying which I think helps to explain the success of Ugly Betty. He said it is not news when a dog bites a man, it is news when a man bites a dog.