When it comes to barometers for what’s hot in the world of entertainment, there are normally a few different gauges than Drama Summit, Entertainment Weekly, Variety or Rolling Stones. In recent years, the latest superhero(s) have had to share the stage with a wealth of buzzy TV dramas, refl ecting the rising importance of scripted series to the average consumer’s entertainment diet.
Unique drama is a key selling point today for online delivery brands as these platforms consolidate their position in the market. But while digital platforms are hungry for great stories, there’s a desire for quality drama among the pay-TV channels and large free-to-air broadcasters such as Singapore’s Mediacorp, as nothing strengthens a TV brand, digital or otherwise, better than highquality, compeling drama.
A few years ago, the US$100M Kevin Spacey-led series, House Of Cards, has been hailed as a game-changer, establishing a new route of distribution with an all-you-can-eat offering direct through Netflix. There’s a lot more demand out there for unique content, unique stories, unique drama today. Traditionally it was the business of big free-TV channels to commission drama. Now you have a lot more players in the market such as the VOD platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Viu, and HOOQ who all are looking for original content as well.
What has also changed is America’s dominance in the global supply of drama. While there’s no denying that U.S. content continues to deliver big audiences world-wide, the drama business appears to be booming everywhere. And against that backdrop, the battle is on among producers, broadcasters and distributors to land the best projects, wherever they may hail from.
With the increase in popularity of drama on new platforms, how is Mediacorp satisfying demand with its finished products regionally?
“It is very competitive,” observes Suzie Wang, Head of Content Distribution, Mediacorp Studios.
“The proliferation of OTT players actually presents new opportunities for Mediacorp. The ability to watch on multiple devices and bingewatch all episodes encourages high consumption and long hours of watching.
“This means that content providers who are able to provide multiple genres in bulk numbers are well positioned to meet the programming needs of OTT players. Mediacorp currently produces 1600 hours of content annually, and we have a wide selection of genres that cuts across documentaries, dramas, variety programmes and even original web series. We have ample content to provide any OTT players who wants quality, quantity and variety,” she says.
Mediacorp recently sealed a bulk deal with Thailand-based OTV Network, to sell 400 hours of drama titles for the new OTT platform. These titles with genre that ranges from action, family to romance, will be made available on the new platform launched in September this year.
Mediacorp’s content will be available on the new platform by December starting with titles such as The Dream Job, Yes We Can! and Tiger Mum. OTV Network is also planning to extend its OTT service to several countries including Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in the coming year. It is set to launch the service in Cambodia by November 2017.
This is the largest number of hours of Chinese content OTV Network acquired from a single distributor todate. Suzie says, “With Mediacorp’s dramas already gaining traction in most South East Asian countries, OTV Network hopes to boost its Chinese content offering to appeal to the new markets it is expanding into.
“This is the first time Mediacorp closed a volume deal with a Thai partner, after our many successes with partners in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam. One of our recent successes include a deal of close to 500 hours with Netflix, a global streaming service player available in 190 countries.”
As for what it is that broadcasters are seeking out, the answer appears to be, a bit of everything. Buyers and commissioners are more open to experimenting with new ideas according to general views.
A previous Media Partner Asia’s (MPA) verdict on viewing preference reveals that people are choosing much more varied slates than they did 18 months ago. As serialised storytelling has found more and more fans across the Asia-Pacifi c region, it’s almost surprising what will work now.
The ability to watch on-demand as well as in a linear environment means that you don’t have to dumb down the drama for any specifi c audience. Research reveals that audience appreciates complex and complicated stories, so broadcasters are now shopping for something that stands out. It’s amazing to discover what succeeds around the world – there’s a massive variety. And it can come from any country – it’s not just from the U.S. or the U.K. anymore.
As for why OTV Network expressed interest in Mediacorp drama?
Suzie says, “Mediacorp’s content is no stranger to the Indochina region. Audiences in these countries are familiar with dramas like The Little Nyonya which resonates well with the viewers. Our slate of dramas which consists of a variety of genres such as Action, Family, Romance, Thriller and Turn-of Century, impressed OTV Network.
“Our ability to produce a wide variety of genres in large volume is one of the key reasons for OTV Network’s decision to partner with us for their content strategy. They are confi dent that we can deliver quality content regardless of the genres.”
Where there used to be a few potential players there are many now, and in order to give their platform the right USP they need content that stands out and they need shows that are extraordinary. As Suzie puts it correctly from the beginning, “It’s very competitive.” Today you have stronger pay-TV platforms in the market and the sudden infl ux of OTT players slashing subscription rates yet providing more content.
While there’s a lot of competition and demand for unique shows, there’s also a concern about funding. Operating in a fragmented market means that individual players cannot spend big league cash. That’s where a new openness towards co-production kicks in. To share your properties is important in today’s production ecosystem.
AMC’s worldwide hit Breaking Bad is a prime example of a series that has embraced traditional and emerging platforms, with Netflix making the final episodes available in many regions within hours of their original airing.
What trends do you observe in the drama business?
“We see co-production as an emerging trend and Mediacorp is actively gearing up to collaborate with regional players to produce high quality dramas. We aim to upscale our production through collaborations and seeking the right partner with the right synergyThis is essential to meet our objectives holistically,” she explains.
You had 500 hrs of Chinese drama sold to Netflix and 400 hrs to OTV Network recently. These exports are testament of Mediacorp production quality. What is your take on this?
“We enjoy a strong foothold in Asia as we also have ongoing bulk deal in Cambodia, China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Our dramas have a huge audience following and our artistes are recognised in these territories.
“These are not overnight successes as our production teams are constantly improving the scripts, storytelling skill, fi lming techniques, equipments and implementing technology in every aspect to maintain the quality of our content,” claims Suzie.
Indeed, it’s a testament to the Singapore terrestrial broadcaster that there’s always been a regional appetite for the nation’s content in some shape or form. Not bad for a country that in the past has relied on imported product to fill its schedules.
But the consensus among distributors and producers these days is that demand for content from Asia has never been higher. Many distributors are now ramping up their strategies in Asia, which is becoming an increasingly important market for sales. Mediacorp’s distribution success coincides withthe huge market that’s undergoing rapid change and development. The broadcaster’s use of talent wisely has really worked well and that’s another contributing ingredient to its success.