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Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 17:19
Sino-British TV coproductions widen their focus
By Bo Leung in London
Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 17:19 By Bo Leung in London

China aims to become key player in providing global content

Dancing on Ice is one of the shows attracting both Chinese and British TV audiences. It has been a critical and commercial success. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Sino-British television coproductions and collaborations are growing as China looks to shake off its image as a content buyer and transform itself into a global producer in different formats.

With the signing of the UK-China Television Co-Production Treaty in 2016, the United Kingdom became the second country to have both movie and TV coproduction treaties with China.

One of the first China-UK productions to result was between Huace Film and TV and the British broadcaster ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Everyone thinks that China is the big buyer, but buyers can be changed to sellers

Maggie Liang, managing director and executive producer at The Media Pioneers in London

They collaborated on a Chinese version of the UK's Dancing on Ice, which was named Stars on Ice in China. The show was a critical and commercial success and the two companies vowed to continue working together, producing content for the Chinese market.

Such cooperation is not all that can be expected from the coproduction treaty. Chinese mainland producers and TV networks want not only to buy and adapt foreign shows, but to ensure that China becomes a key player in providing original TV productions around the world.

China spent US$10.9 billion on television programming in 2017, according to a report from global information provider IHS Markit in London. Of that, TV broadcasters spent US$6.4 billion and Chinese companies Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent invested US$4.5 billion in programs for their online entertainment platforms.

In October, representatives from the global TV industry gathered in the southern French city of Cannes for MIPCOM, a trade event. China was named a "country of honor", an accolade that organizers said shows the country's new strategic importance and reflects its ambition to export more programming globally.

Chinese internet service provider Tencent coproduced Dynasties with BBC Studios. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

At the event, about 400 Chinese mainland executives and representatives from at least 156 companies were led by the State Council Information Office and the National Radio and Television Administration.

Speaking at the gathering, Fan Weiping, deputy director of the National Radio and Television Administration, said: "Over the past 15 years, with the rapid development of China's economy and society, the country's film and television cultural industry has become increasingly prosperous, and international communications and cooperation have been remarkably active."

China's TV industry is overseen by the NRTA, a State regulator that approves deals in the industry and can stop a series for reasons that include endangering State security and damaging the honor and interests of the State.

"China would like to sincerely cooperate with all of its friends in order to stimulate a new dynamism in the international development of the audiovisual industry, and to contribute together to the prosperity of various cultures," Fan said.

Laurine Garaude, a director at Reed MIDEM, the organizer of MIPCOM, predicted that there would be an increase in Chinese content being exported in the next two to three years.

A string of deals signed at the event points to such an acceleration. Among them, Endemol Shine China is collaborating with film and TV production company Blue&White&Red Pictures, and Chinese intellectual property specialist Cloudwood is making a Mandarin-language version of the hit British crime drama Broadchurch.

Meanwhile, Chinese internet service provider Tencent coproduced the natural history series Dynasties with BBC Studios as part of a wider deal that sees the two working to create a Chinese fan base for the BBC Earth Tribe website, which has just gone live on Tencent Video.

David Weiland, BBC Studios' executive vice-president for Asia, said, "Chinese audiences' appreciation of the BBC's premium natural history content has grown over the past two years."

Ancient Games is among several shows to attract significant audiences in both China and the United Kingdoms. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

He cited programs including Blue Planet II, which received some 250 million views on Tencent, and Planet Earth II, which was seen by 200 million viewers in 2016.

"We are very excited to extend our partnership with Tencent with the coproduction of Dynasties, and work with them to build a community of like-minded natural history fans, bringing our content beyond the screens to them via BBC Earth Tribe," Weiland said.

Media experts said that by partnering with entities in China, Western enterprises gain access to one of the world's largest TV markets at a time when the country is introducing more regulations on the purchasing and airing of overseas programs.

The NRTA has proposed regulations suggesting that overseas programs, including movies, TV shows, animation and documentaries, should not exceed 30 percent of the total daily content in their specific categories.

Gong Yu, founder and CEO of Chinese streaming platform IQIYI, said during his keynote speech at MIPCOM that the platform intends to start originating content, rather than simply buying shows.

"Over the past 10 years, most content was acquired through purchasing intellectual property, but in future, the proportion of content produced by platforms themselves will increase dramatically," Gong said.

Some Chinese shows have caught the attention of international TV producers, including the series The Nation's Greatest Treasures. Global content creator Endemol Shine, which has its headquarters in the Netherlands, has agreed with China Central Television to create an international version of the show, which focuses on museums, national artifacts and historical re-enactments.

The two companies will also jointly develop new, unscripted TV formats for Chinese channels and international markets.

Chinese production company 3C Media has announced a joint development deal with UK independent producer ZigZag on a new reality show called Ancient Games.

Chinese and UK representatives sign a Blue Planet II coproduction contract in October 2017. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Maggie Liang, managing director and executive producer at The Media Pioneers in London, struck a landmark deal by selling the FX channel and the BBC series Taboo, staring Tom Hardy, to Alibaba and Youku in China.

Liang is working with Chinese company Datang International Entertainment on a drama named Shanghai Confessions, which she said has received interest from global subscription video-on-demand channels. Liang describes the drama as a British story told by Chinese creators. She said she is keen to see more original content emerging from Asia.

"I love developing my own content, because originality is very important for China," Liang said. "Everyone thinks that China is the big buyer, but buyers can be changed to sellers. If you know the Asia TV market, you will see a lot of Chinese broadcasters and production companies are going to sell their own formats."

Liang believes there is still a long way to go before China starts exporting a significant amount of original TV content, but she is optimistic.

"The landscape of China's television industry is changing and, with a new generation of producers emerging, they are looking at developing original formats and shows," Liang said.

UK and China productions are not without their challenges. In addition to China's rules and regulations on the purchasing and airing of overseas programs, producers need to find stories that will appeal to their Chinese counterparts and audiences.

While China is working on producing more content, the appetite for television shows from the UK remains high.

A report by Pact, the trade body that represents the country's independent content producers, shows the UK performed strongly on sales of TV content in 2016/17, with overall estimated total revenue of 902 million pounds (US$1.13 billion). Sales to China reached 25 million pounds.

Looking to the future, the report said there is potential for the UK in China, Southeast and East Asia, and the United States.

It said the UK-China Television Co-production Treaty opens the door to the two countries further building content together. Factual and entertainment shows are the two areas in which the report expects to see the most growth.

It said the most popular exported shows included Planet Earth II, Sherlock and Midsomer Murders, as well as high-production period dramas including The Crown and Victoria.

Pact said business with China tripled after a series of trade missions in the past seven years.

Dawn McCarthy-Simpson, Pact's director of international strategy, said, "We have made great inroads into China in the past few years. Ratification of the treaty means that the doors are truly open for the UK and China to work together on coproduction projects."

Productions between the two countries were also boosted in November at the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where the UK was a country of honor.

Joint deals clinched at the event include Clipper Media Capital and Arca Pictures signing a memorandum of understanding on film coproduction worth more than 30 million pounds.

BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and Cloud Intelligence agreed a deal to bring the BAFTA awards to audiences on one of China's leading media platforms from this year.


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