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A taste of Asia

By Sonia Fleck 05-02-2018

Like most in the industry, I attend many television markets. As a distributor, we take our clients out on the town, and with the utmost care, choose restaurants that will give us paradise on a plate.

Over the years, I have found our Asian clients don’t always love Western tastes. Fair enough. Personally, it took me time to understand the grace of kimchi, the tart bite of bitter gourd and other unique Asian delicacies. Today, I’ll fight for a bowl of good tom yum any time.

But this is not a food article. This is about Asian television viewership tastes, or rather their expectation of the experience.

Asia has one of the largest millennial populations in the world. They have come of age in a perpetually quantified state – their genetic data is on apps from Helix, they move with FitBit and their whereabouts are on Instagram. Millennials are interacting all day but almost entirely through a screen.

This generation grew up watching reality shows, which are generally entertaining programmes about narcissists. Now they are themselves prepared to make their own reality TV.

Asian viewers lived though a rapid economic transformation. Talent, like water, is flowing through all the cracks and breaking down stereotypes. Viewers are themselves so comfortable in front of their own cameras that it leads to the inevitable: telling their own stories. The channels here really want to do more of that, too.

This is not great news for the endless ready-made content available from the West. US drama will always have a place, but it has lost ground in recent years. US superhero series are great, but Asian drama has proven it doesn’t have to be all action and violence. We now see fantastic Asian local primetime shows about families, growing up, romance, friendship – I call it ‘the good stuff in life.’

For example, a K-drama doesn’t take the idea of love and max it out all at once, with main characters becoming intimate by episode two. It gradually blossoms over the course of the show, proving that the little things are what matter. It’s the underlying emotional tension of Pride & Prejudice all over again with Eastern nuance. And it works. In Asia these series last up to 20 episodes, so the infatuated viewer gets a lot more bang for their heart-throbbing buck!

Canadian producer Beauty World Search’s format The Fashion Hero

In lifestyle content, DIY and remake shows generally don’t do well in Asia. Series can only get a real fanbase if the presenter is light, fun and not too hands-on with the saws and hammers. The general attitude in Asia is to leave it to the professionals.

Travelogues do well, but Asians travel now more than ever and have a seasoned eye when it comes to the joys of globetrotting. They don’t want presenters who are bystanders, they want to see them live it, show emotion and maybe make mistakes in their quest to be real.

In short, the Asian authenticity gauge has jumped to new levels of expectation. To respond to this, our company is focusing on formats that allow viewers to tell their own stories, to watch it as a transformative experience and celebrate the good stuff in life.

Our show The Fashion Hero, created by Beauty World Search, allows people in Asia to present themselves as the brand they have created online with their friends and followers. We all do this with our social media, whether we realise it or not. This competition reality series, driven by significant online involvement, asks participants to celebrate themselves as they want to. How liberating. This show allows us to break down fashion industry norms of beauty and still be a microcelebrity.

Reality gaming competition Gamerz, created by Gamingzone, is another format poised for localisation in Asia. Viewers are offered immediate online participation and the chance to get into the actual show at anytime during broadcast. With the launch of gaming channels in the region, it’s clear a loyal gamer following exists, and even better, the show offers a way to make gaming a job, with serious salaries if you’re a winner.

Asia is undeniably becoming more self-indulgent in regard to its own content. Tastes are expanding and creating clearer local stories that simply make better cultural sense – the ‘umami,’ or the fifth taste after salt, sweet, sour and bitter. And new tastes mean exciting new experiences.

today's correspondent

Sonia Fleck CEO Bomanbridge Media

Sonia has worked in Asia-Pacific TV distribution since 2000, as the market moved to centre stage, while building an extensive network of broadcast and creative partners. Sonia is implementing a seven-step model for a successful business, with all areas of the industry addressed and engaged. Bomanbridge’s clients include Zodiak, Parthenon and Sky Vision.

Sonia is spearheading the growth of the company in the digital arena and format development. From premium factual and lifestyle to kids’ content, Sonia aims to increase the firm’s catalogue by 25% per year. Sustainable business is also an important part of the growth process, with charities receiving a percentage of Bomanbridge’s net profits.