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From Global to Local: A Year in Asian Adaptations of Unscripted Formats

In the dynamic world of Asian unscripted, one genre has consistently taken the spotlight: Entertainment. Casting a glance over the diverse landscape of active unscripted adaptations that have graced the region in the past months from January to October 2023, it’s no surprise that Entertainment has continued its triumphant reign, commanding a robust 76% share of all format acquisitions.

 

Delving into the Entertainment genre, Gameshow/Quiz emerged as the leader, boasting a significant 36% market share. In a tightly contested race, Talent Competitions closely trailed behind, securing a commendable 34% share, underscoring the neck-and-neck competition between these two prominent genres. Hybrid singing game show co-shared the third position with cooking, each accounting for a 12% acquisition volume. While cooking has traditionally been a staple of Asian unscripted programming, the popularity of hybrid singing game shows can be attributed to the creativity bubbling within the region, giving birth to formats like I Can See Your Voice (CJ ENM), The Masked Singer (MBC), The Wall Duet (Workpoint), Singer Auction (co-developed by NBCUniversal and Thailand’s Zense Entertainment), and the latest addition, My Boyfriend is Better (CJ ENM). The latter made a dazzling showcase at ATF 2022, creating waves that swiftly led to its inaugural adaptation with a captivating Thai version in June.

However, seizing the spotlight in the realm of Entertainment is the grand resurgence of major talent franchises. Fremantle’s Got Talent has been at the forefront of this spectacular return, with several active adaptations across Asia since January 2023. This impressive roster includes a fresh Japanese rendition produced by Yoshimoto Kogyo for ABEMA in February, an upcoming Hong Kong adaptation as well as the electrifying return of existing versions in Cambodia, Indonesia, India, and Mongolia. Notably, the narrative is incomplete without acknowledging the Filipino version of Got Talent’s thrilling spin-off, Battle Of The Judges, on GMA. Got Talent‘s resurgence isn’t a mere comeback. It stands as compelling evidence that in Asia, we have an enduring affinity for formats that not only spotlight impressive performances but, more significantly, showcase the extraordinary talents of our people.

And as we talk about spin-offs of talent shows, it’s worth mentioning The Voice franchise, which flexes its vocal prowess with not one but two spin-offs: The Voice Kids and The Voice Generations, both in The Philippines on different channels in 2023. The Philippines is the first territory in Asia to adapt the Generations spin-off of the format; following its Australian debut in 2022. Besides this, there are other active versions under The Voice franchise that were launched this year or expected to return soon across the region.

Format Destinations – The Old and New Buyers

When it comes to unscripted format buyers, Vietnam stands tall as the undisputed leader, maintaining its apex position by constituting a substantial 20% of the market share. While this could be easily predicted, given Vietnam’s historical dominance, the real surprise lies in the fact that this steadfast position persists despite reports of a reduction in the country’s unscripted format demand due to prevailing economic conditions. The nuanced reality suggests a strategic shift, perhaps back towards established franchises and more cost-effective formats from smaller distributors, rather than an outright cessation of format acquisitions.

India emerges as a close contender, securing the second spot with a 14% share of the acquisition volume. This feat is propelled by the colossal success of Banijay’s Big Brother, with several versions spanning across languages and ranging from linear to the ever-expanding world of OTT. Notably, the Indian landscape diverges from the regional trend, with a balanced distribution between in-studio entertainment and reality genres. While we’re sidestepping discussions about scripted format acquisitions here, it’s worth noting that with India’s increasing embrace of scripted formats, a combined tally of unscripted and scripted endeavours could very well position India ahead of Vietnam as the frontrunner in the region.

On the flip side, Thailand’s once soaring acquisition prowess has experienced a dip, slipping from its former position as one of the top two buyers (alongside Vietnam). Now relegated to the fourth spot, it finds itself eclipsed by the rising star on the unscripted format horizon – Mongolia. Beyond the aforementioned returning season of Got Talent, Mongolia has embarked on a diverse journey, exploring formats such as Killer Karaoke (Banijay), Rat In The Kitchen (ITV Studios, pictured), and That’s My Jam (NBCUniversal). As seen, the country is acquiring formats across genres and origins, and all major channels in Mongolia are actively participating, with Central Television standing as the country’s most prolific buyer in the unscripted format arena.

Streamers Step Up, Redefining the Game

According to K7 Tracking The Giants Unscripted 2022-2023, a resounding global trend was the year-on-year growth of unscripted formats commissioned by both local and global streamers. Asia is not staying on the sidelines of this trend. Over the past 10 months, a substantial 12% of format acquisitions in the region found their debut on streaming platforms. Reality, with its magnetic appeal to younger audiences, has emerged as the darling of streaming platforms, a genre perfectly tailored to capture the hearts of the streamers’ target demographic.

The influence of streaming platforms not only transcends acquisition genres, but also weaves into the history of a nation’s format acquisition. A prime example is Japan. Historically renowned as the birthplace of many format ideas and a powerhouse in Asian format creation, it was traditionally reserved in acquiring international formats, but has undergone a transformative journey in recent years propelled by streaming platforms. Japan is now ranking on the same par with Malaysia in terms of format acquisition volume. And more than 80% of unscripted formats sold into the country for the year 2023 landed on streaming platforms. Prime Video is taking the lead for this adaptation trend in Japan. In particular, the platform debuted its version of CJ ENM’s EXchange (pictured) in June while airing the fifth season of The Bachelor Japan (WBITVP) in August. Both Bake Off Japan (BBC Studios) and The Masked Singer Japan (MBC) also took their final bows on the platform in 2022.

Even in South Korea, where the adaptation of foreign formats is a rarity, 2023 has witnessed the launch of only one foreign format adaptation so far, which was indeed a returning season of Saturday Night Live Korea (NBCUniversal), on streamer Coupang Play.

The rise of Asian powers in format creation

It comes as no surprise that the US and the UK have emerged as the primary providers of unscripted formats to Asia, given their longstanding status as global leaders in format innovation. However, a compelling revelation unfolds when we delve into the details: a substantial 30% of all active unscripted format adaptations by Asian nations in the past 10 months have roots embedded within other Asian territories.

South Korean formats, in particular, exerted a considerable influence, contributing significantly with a 19% share. This positions South Korea as the third-largest supplier of unscripted formats for the Asian market, trailing only behind the US and the UK. Japan, too, emerges as a promising contributor, with a noteworthy 7% of all active adaptations within the Asian market tracing their origins back to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Despite a previous dip in format acquisitions, Thailand is making waves as it transforms into a format creator. The country’s export has seen a corresponding increase, aligning with its shift in focus. In the ever-evolving landscape, neighbouring countries remain the primary buyer of Thai formats as of 2023. However, the expansion of Workpoint, a major player driving format creation growth in Thailand, hints at a potential shift towards an expanding global footprint. Meanwhile, China, at the nascent stage of unscripted format export, also has the Vietnamese version of Hunan TV’s Sisters Who Make Waves launched in October, marking a promising phase for the country in the region’s unscripted acquisition landscape.

As we wrap up the current year and anticipate the arrival of the next, the Asian market has witnessed a rollercoaster of highs and lows. The lingering impact of Covid seems to be fading away, but its repercussions continue to subtly influence various Asian economies. Despite this, a palpable sense of cyclical progression is underway. This may not be the moment when buyers open up and aggressively compete for any new unscripted formats introduced. Instead, it marks an era of evolution and excitement. The region is experiencing a shift towards a more deliberately selective array of imported formats, along with the birth of more Asian creations which appeal not only to the Asian audience but also have the potential to capture the hearts of audiences across the world.

This analysis is based on data collected from January to October 2023, including both new adaptations or returning seasons of existing adaptations launched during this period, as well as confirmed upcoming versions. If not specifically indicated as scripted, all “format acquisitions” mentioned in the article are to be unscripted formats.

Trang Nguyen

Born and raised in Vietnam, Trang came to the University of Manchester to pursue a master's degree in Business Psychology in 2018. Now working in K7's Asia Pacific team, Trang tracks the evolution of TV and entertainment trends across the South East Asia territory.

Outside of work, Trang enjoys watching Asian dramas and variety shows.