The race is on to find TV co-production success

Foreign companies are eager to play their part in the world's most populated market.

While many still wait for a major Chinese co-production film to sweep the domestic and international cinema box offices, co-productions in TV are catching up quickly. A co-production treaty has been signed between China and the UK, and projects are in the pipeline.

Dawn McCarthy-Simpson, director of international development for British trade association Pact, said a race was on to be the first to announce a co-production under the treaty signed in December 2016.

She was heading a British delegation to the Shanghai International TV Festival that ended on June 15, shortly after a 10-day visit to the UK by Chinese TV producers and directors. The treaty between China and UK is the second after one with New Zealand in 2014.

“Foreign production companies want to be in the most populated market, and Chinese TV and companies want to increase international exposure and influence, so it’s a natural fit,” a Chinese TV producer told Shanghai Daily. “It’s not just a matter of language or cultural barrier, or about filming in a different location. There have been many failed cases, whether in co-produced films or in TV, that we can learn from and know what not to do. And everyone’s trying to pitch that first big success.”

Many are eyeing documentaries or reality shows, hoping that the language or cultural factors would play less part in such genres.

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“Blue Planet II,” the followup to BBC’s award-winning documentary series, turned out to be a big success for Tencent, in terms of both viewings and ratings. It scored 9.9/10 on China’s movie review site douban.com with nearly 20,000 reviews. It was viewed over 230 million times on Tencent’s video site within six weeks of its premiere.

“In 2017, our investment in documentaries was about the same as total input in all the past years,” Wang Juan, senior vice president of Tencent Pictures, told the media at an earlier conference during the TV festival, adding that investment will be doubled this year as the company transforms from buying rights to producing and co-producing more documentaries.

For many, the answer may be variety shows, as some of the most successful reality shows have been format collaborations between Chinese and South Korean TV stations.

In 2013, Hunan Satellite TV acquired the format rights of the popular South Korean reality show “Where Are We Going Dad?” and turned it into an instant success and hot topic, followed by many similar shows on other channels. Though South Korean TV programs were already popular in China, this success elevated it to another level. Many hope to see such a snowball effect for their own countries.

“I have been coming for 10 years now,” said Danny Fenton, CEO of British production company Zig Zag Productions, of the TV festival. “We all come here because we can see the potential in China to do something very powerful.”

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The financial thriller “The Trading Floor”

The company won the award for Best New Format at the Shanghai TV festival last year and was granted the opportunity to make a pilot for its proposal called “Ancient Games.”

In this show, former athletes and celebrities will compete in the early forms of the contemporary games, such as gladiator combats, or cuju, the ancient Chinese version of football. The contestants will have the conditions similar to those 2,000 years ago, until one is crowned the winner.

Amid the ongoing projects, very few are dramas, mostly due to the language and cultural differences.

In other Asian markets, Western producers have had some success by localizing a familiar story, such as the Japanese drama series “Miss Sherlock.” A co-production between Hulu and HBO, the drama features a contemporary female duo of Sherlock and Watson in a rather typical Japanese suspense/detective storytelling style.

In China, Fox Networks Groups collaborated with Tencent Penguin Pictures to release the five-episode financial thriller “The Trading Floor” last month. The show attracted nearly 60 million viewers in its first thee days and scored 8.1 on Douban with much critical acclaims.

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