Asian flavour

Asian flavour
Group shot of Asia's Next Top Model on Star World.

In Singapore and other parts of South-east Asia, TV viewers get to watch America's Next Top Model. Why then is there a need for Asia's Next Top Model? Ditto America's Got Talent/Asia's Got Talent, Food Wars/Food Wars Asia, How Do I Look?/How Do I Look? Asia and MasterChef/MasterChef Asia.

Why do Asian TV producers pay for the foreign franchises when they could just come up with their own talent shows, modelling contests, style programmes and cooking challenges?

With the surge in recent years in the number of Asian franchises of popular foreign reality shows, Life! asks the TV channels, contestants and viewers how a local-flavoured version of a recognised title is valuable to them.

For the audience

As much as audiences here enjoy watching the popular American and British (and typically original) versions of the reality shows, they take to localised spin-offs as they can relate to them more easily.

Marketing executive Cassie Wong, 29, loves watching Asia's Next Top Model as she can relate to the Asian contestants on the show.

She says: "In between the competition, the show looks at different make-up and fashion options for Asians and what looks good for our skin tones and that definitely keeps me interested.

"It's also fun to have contestants that I can really root for, which, in this case, are obviously the ones from Singapore. I could watch a local modelling show, but when it is part of the Top Model franchise, I already know what the look of the show will be like and I expect it to have higher production values."

Mr Hui Keng Ang, senior vice-president and general manager, Networks, Asia, Sony Pictures Television, which is producing Asia's Got Talent, says that shows "produced in Asia for Asia resonate well with viewers".

He adds: "The audiences appreciate familiar locations, local contestants and local talent as the show feels more accessible. Asia's Got Talent follows the journey of aspiring performers from places that you know and love, so as a viewer, you'd want them to do well, celebrate when they make it to the next round and share in their disappointment when the judges' buzzers go off."

Asia's Got Talent has contestants from across the region and is judged by Indonesian singer Anggun, Taiwanese-American pop idol Vanness Wu, ex-Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm and Grammy-winning musician David Foster.

Polytechnic student Jolyn Teo, 20, watches the show not just for the contestants, but also for Wu.

She says: "I love Sharon Osbourne on America's Got Talent, but it's nice to see an Asian judge such as Vanness on a show like this.

"And he turned out to be so much more fun than I expected. My mother sometimes watches the show with me because she recognises him from Meteor Garden (2001)."

The high ratings for Asian spin-offs of international reality shows speak for themselves.

When the third and latest season of Asia's Next Top Model premiered last month on StarWorld (StarHub TV Channel 501, Singtel Channel 301), it was the No. 1 show among all Western general entertainment cable channels during its timeslot for female viewers aged 18 to 39.

Meanwhile, the debut episode of Asia's Got Talent did so well last month that it did 10 times better than that of the next English-language general entertainment programme in ratings, for pay-TV markets across Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Such strong interest in local-generated content also propelled NBCUniversal to start prepping production for How Do I Look? Asia, the Asian version of popular American fashion makeover show How Do I Look?.

From extensive research that the company conducted in surveys with female audiences this year, it found that "Singaporean women enjoy American and overseas content", but that "they are also drawn to stories by real, everyday women that they can relate to".

Ms Christine Fellowes, managing director of NBCUniversal, adds: "Producing an Asian version of How Do I Look? will allow us to reach out to more contestants across Asia and share different types of stories derived from their culture and living habits."

Still, the risk of producing a franchise show is that it could potentially be negatively compared with the original.

Ms Wong felt that Nadya Hutagalung, the host of the first two seasons of Asia's Next Top Model, was "not as engaging to watch" as America's Next Top Model's Tyra Banks.

She says: "Tyra is more sassy and lively, and Nadya was quite cold as a host. The two shows look quite similar in terms of the way they are shot and the production values are good for the Asian version, but when the host is not as fun, the overall tone feels quite different."

For the channel

It could be expensive to buy the rights to the format of a TV franchise, but TV channels believe that the franchise fee is a worthy investment.

Producing a show with a famous brand name generally means that there is a good chance of success, given that its formula has been tried and tested elsewhere.

Ms Michele Schofield, senior vice-president of programming and production at A+E Networks Asia, which is producing MasterChef Asia, says: "The biggest attraction of producing a format versus starting with your original idea is that the format has proven itself in other territories already.

"Your audience and advertisers know what you are promoting as soon as you say the name of the show."

That means that channels can also attract the fans of the original shows to tune in to the Asian spin-offs, since they would already know what to expect and probably enjoy the format.

Mr CheeK, head of creative, content and marketing at Scripps Networks Interactive, Asia Pacific, the company producing Food Wars Asia, says: "We can leverage on the reputation of these existing formats, tapping their strong fan base to build awareness and excitement for the launch of the Asian version.

"We are confident that the show will resonate with our Asian viewers who are passionate about food, especially when it is about their favourite local eatery being pitted against a rival."

Food Wars Asia, a spin-off of American food competition Food Wars, has popular restaurants and hawker stalls from Singapore and Malaysia challenging one another in cooking showdowns.

Brand recognition is also useful for nabbing sponsors.

Sony's Mr Ang says: "An Asian adaptation of an already successful format is more likely to attract sponsors to invest in the show as there is an established familiarity with the brand."

But there are also limitations to producing a franchised show.

Mr Ang explains that on top of high licensing costs, there are "restrictions to the creative licence to significantly modify the show".

A+E Networks' Ms Schofield adds: "With an original format, you can modify the programme to better suit your budget and you have the ability to scale it down.

"But for a show such as MasterChef, viewers have a pre-conceived idea of how the show should look and feel, therefore the scale of the show is fairly fixed."

For the contestants

Asian spin-offs are the perfect high-profile platform for talents from the region to showcase what they have got.

Dance Singapore Dance, the local version of the popular Dance India Dance TV contest, features Singaporean contestants.

Mr Sushruta Samanta, business head, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, says: "Dance India Dance (DID) has enjoyed phenomenal success in India and has been well-received. We wanted to replicate DID's success, so we created Dance Singapore Dance and it gives dancers in Singapore a shot at gaining fame by showcasing their talent."

For contestants, participation in a franchise TV show means that they can better market themselves in the future compared with if they had been on a relatively unknown TV contest.

Moreover, as many of the spin-offs here are broadcast widely in Asia - as opposed to just in the small Singapore market alone - these shows increase the participants' exposure and employment opportunities in the region.

Model Poojaa Gill, who represented Singapore in the second season of Asia's Next Top Model, says that there is "no way" she would have considered joining any other TV modelling contest other than the one in the Top Model franchise.

"You cannot compare this with other modelling shows in terms of the exposure it gets you," says the 24-year-old, who was eliminated in Episode 5 of the show.

"As a franchise show, there is a certain high quality that comes with it, so we got to work with some of the top designers and fashion industry people from all across Asia."

She adds: "After the show, I've got offers from agencies in the Philippines and Indonesia to go over and establish myself there, and I don't think I would have ever got the same level of opportunity if I had joined a Singaporean modelling TV contest.

"Designers from other Asian countries also know of me from the show and have approached me to model for them and it's all because I was on Asia's Next Top Model."


This article was first published on April 23, 2015.
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