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June 11, 2011

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Foreign TV formats the next big thing

CHINESE TV viewers can expect to see a lot more international programs adapted for Chinese audiences, following the success of "China's Got Talent" which is based on "Britain's Got Talent."

The 17th Shanghai TV Festival, which ended yesterday, sent a strong message that purchasing foreign TV formats will become a new competitive strategy among stations nationwide.

The festival has selected 10 international entertainment shows from among 100 of the best-known format companies, production companies and individuals. In the near future a jury of Chinese professionals will decide which will be made into Chinese versions with local TV channels.

They cover all types of entertainment television, such as quiz and game shows, variety shows, reality and talk shows. Some are brand new and others have been popular overseas for years.

Four entries received the Jury Grand Prix awards, including "The Singing Office" by Idea Asia Media from China, "Talking About My Generation" by the ITV Studios from the UK, Unanico Group's "London A to Z" from the UK and "Shenma Nan" (literally "What Man") from Shanghai Media Group.

"The Singing Office" invites employees of two companies to compete as teams. They could be security guards or the company president. Amusing musical battles express cultures of various companies.

"Talking About My Generation" brings people from different generations back together to talk about their traditions, values and stories, while "Shenma Nan" offers housework tips for young husbands.

"London A to Z" is a tour guide program about London's preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games. It introduces the city's sports pavilions, history, culture and food to Chinese viewers.

Six entries were honored as the most creative format pitches. They include the celebrity variety show "Hit Me Baby One More Time" from ITV Studios, "Pets Times" from Shanghai Jinchen Green Investment Management Co Ltd, and Shanghai Media Group's four entries - the knowledge program "Unknow," reality competition "Dancing with the Company Staff," celebrity talk show "Hi, Channel Young Pie" and travel program "Weekend Travel."

Yang Wenhong, vice president of Shanghai Media Group, emphasizes the importance of format in today's TV programming. Last year the group's Dragon TV bought the format of hit reality series "Britain's Got Talent" and the authorized Chinese version has proved to be one of the most popular entertainment shows in the country. It's now in its second season.

Dragon TV recently launched the Chinese version of the popular Dutch show "Sing It," whose rights have been sold to more than 10 countries.

The show involves human-interest stories revealed and regular folks sing their hearts out with pop songs.


"However, not all popular Western formats are appropriate for Chinese audience," Yang says, referring to those that are particularly outrageous or contain sexual content. "We always put a high premium on the program's values and look for a format that is inspiring, positive and heartwarming."

Arjen van Mierlo, CEO of Endemol Asia based in Hong Kong, says the company produces around 10,000 hours of original content a year. Endemol format shows televised on the Chinese mainland include Jiangsu Satellite TV's "First and Last,", "Marriage Ref" and Hunan Satellite TV's "1 vs 100."

"The testing and pilot phase is very important for us to see how the show works," Mierlo says. "China's TV industry is developing very fast and the market is getting more mature. We're willing to create shows with local teams and introduce popular Chinese TV formats to the world."

BBC Worldwide is one of the largest distributors and producers of formats. The popular local celebrity reality dance show "Let's Shake It" years ago was loosely based on BBC's popular show "Strictly Come Dancing."

Norman Lockhart, director of international production at BBC, encourages the TV industry to be open to creative ideas, even though they might not be applicable or accessible at the moment.

"A great format idea is of the right time, in the right place and for whatever reason it connects with an audience," Lockhart says. "Besides, it needs brilliant execution from the production team."

During the TV festival, professionals from China's broadcasting, TV and Internet video industries discussed new opportunities for traditional TV media, including more creative concepts, new profit models and wider platforms.


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