I noticed that after 16 year of dominating broadcasters’ schedules around Asia, South Korean drama is penetrating the Western world and the Middle Eastern region. For example, CBS in the US has picked up Good Doctor from KBS for a local adaption – just one of a number of K-drama formats heading stateside in recent months. Turkish production houses have also started adaptation to Korean dramas two years ago.
In an era when subtitled foreign drama has started to make an impact in Western Europe, and some of the big break-out successes in US scripted TV have come from adaptations of scripts from elsewhere in the world – Homeland being the obvious example – it is perhaps no surprise to fi nd channels showing an interest in such a successful market.
What is unexpected is that there’s no similar buzz around drama from Japan – a much bigger market than South Korea and with well-established broadcasters. Japan television industry has always been insular, rarely importing or exporting and never really seeing the need to. What U.S. dramas that Japan buys are aired on cable channels in the middle of the night. Its exports to the West so far – Nippon TV’s Dragons’ Den being the most notable – are really only game shows and reality formats.
That insularity has changes markedly of late, with Japanese channels and distributors peddling their wares internationally at Asia Television Forum and Tiffcom in Tokyo, among other events. Not too long ago, NBC greenlit what was known to be the fi rst South Korean unscripted format to go to series in the States, Small World IFT’s Grandpas Over Flowers, has had an impact in Japan too. Having already lost the drama battle to South Korea, is the bigger Asian territory about to be overtaken in formats and factual as well?
One Japanese broadcaster said that the Japanese government could not support Japanese drama’s attempts to go to the world and hence, most local broadcasters were defeated completely by Korea. The Korean government controlled the rights situation to let TV stations and productions go to the world. With Japanese drama, there still are several issues with rights.
The Japanese broadcaster said, “In Asia, it’s very diffi cult to sell documentaries. If we coproduce, the number may be small but the budget will be okay and we can air in good slots. There aren’t the same rights issues in factual as in drama.”
But there were breakthroughs from some Japanese broadcasters. Fuji TV’s weekly documentary series The Nonfi ction saw the light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to awards won in 2014.
Fuji TV took the top current affair prize at the Asian TV Awards for Unforgettable – Three Family Portraits and was highly commended for Our Prayers – Living in Our Times in the documentary category. The Asian TV Awards was the trigger.