Asia Reacts to the Call of the Latin Rhythm

What has changed over the last 5 years looking at content commerce between Asia and LATAM?


From falling prices to diminishing deals between LATAM and Asia, evolution between these two modern-day titans has seen a regression to less than 20% of business done, especially for industry veteran, Kevin Balhetchet, CEO of Bifrost Media, a new venture focused on Latin and Turkish content into Asia, as well as Asian content into Europe and ROW.

Kevin spoke extensively on LATAM’s glory days, back almost a decade ago, and riding the big wave of telenovelas (drama) and movies, genres that LATAM is known for. However, the rise of Asia – Korean, Turkish and Tagalog content – has given LATAM a run for its money.

Kevin Balhetchet, CEO of Bifrost Media 

The robust and first-rate productions of Korean and Turkish dramas today, along with a rising Tagalog drama that has done well especially in Indo-China, Malaysia and the MENA region, has highlighted LATAM’s lack of additional content in the Lifestyle, Kids and Factual arenas.

Yet, the great leveller of Nature’s changing seasons, and the magnitude of timing has made sure LATAM and Asia maintain an unbroken bond.

The flop of recent Bollywood blockbusters prompted an independent distributor representing Southeast Asia to cast her eyes further afield while at the annual Cannes Film Festival in 2017. Indian greats that have customarily guaranteed the draw of fans far and wide – including Zero (2018, Shah Rukh Khan); Thugs of Hindostan (2018, Amitabh Bachchan); Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017, Shah Rukh Khan); and Tubelight (2017, Salman Khan and Kabir Khan) – left buyers disenchanted and scrambling for backups.

According to Sreyashi Sen, Founder & MD of Darpan Global, everyone’s now got their eyes on Bharat, Salman Khan’s new movie, waiting with bated breath on how it will fair. “The concept of stereotypical stories are breaking down.”

Much like the search for light in the dark, it didn’t take much for a momentary Bollywood let-down to accentuate a gem that was waiting in the wings to catch flight of undreamed-of success. The perfect pitch from left field, Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman) caught the attention of Darpan Global’s Sreyashi. However, it had to take an Oscar win for theatres to catch on to what Sreyashi already knew.

This unpredicted triumph opened the proverbial floodgates and propelled Chile and the region of Latin America to a noticeable spot at the top of the heap of “sure bets” within Asia/Southeast Asia. The spotlight on things LATAM incited further evaluations, giving way to the conclusion that the Latin region pleasingly had similarities in their value system; with time, further pointing to increasing cohesions between the two fastest growing continents in the world.

“One thing I’ve noticed, the cultures are very similar,” said Sreyashi, who has increased viewing of films from LATAM since the success of A Fantastic Woman. Today, it has led to an on-going conversation for early stage investments in a Latin film from Darpan Global.

Justin Deimen, Managing Partner, Aurora Global Media Capital, and Sreyashi Sen, founder & MD, Darpan Global

Asian Investment in LATAM

“LATAM represents a great deal of opportunity for Asian investors and producers who have gone through – and those still currently going through – plenty of birth pangs. There's so many similarities between both blocs, especially in SE Asia and the LATAM market - from various production matters, infrastructure potential and issues, shared cultural values, demographics, and socio-political touchpoints among other things,” said Justin Deimen, Managing Partner of Aurora Global Media Capital, and a veteran investor of content across the board.

Shared experiences of what Asian investors have seen in their own backyard has advocated the understanding of what needs to be overcome today. “Of course, LATAM has some strong players already entrenched with monopolies and the added advantage of having a shared language, but the potential continues to be there, waiting to be reached.

“The key here is to be able to bridge this as directly as possible without having to go through Europe or North America. Many times, the pathways to LATAM has been gatekept, making the approach cost-prohibitive,” Justin reproved.

For a while now, handshakes have only ever elicited the buying and selling of finished products. Mexico’s TV Azteca has noted their interest to consider all types of business models, including co-productions with Asia. There is a growing tendency to acquire IPs in general due to the fact that at the end of the day, the viewer wants content they can relate to, on top of the fact that buying a format that has been successful in the country of origin means less risk for the producer and for the channel.

“Undoubtedly, Azteca's most successful production in Asia has been the format La Academia (Talent Show) that has been airing for 13 seasons on Astro (Malaysia) and adapted in Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar,” said Berta Orozco, International Sales (Spain, Africa, Asia, French-Speaking Territories) of Mexico’s TV Azteca. “Another genre that has sold well in the Asian continent have been the classic soaps, and in particular, Siempre Tuya Acapulco (A Love to Remember) that besides having been adapted by Astro as well, has local versions broadcasting in Indonesia,” Berta revealed, adding that canned titles from Mexico has also been seen in Cambodia and Vietnam, and will soon be in China, via CITVC, who is planning a premiere.

Six countries over in Colombia, Caracol Televisión is exploring co-production opportunities with several Asian companies, especially from South Korea and the Philippines, which, according to Estefanía Arteaga, Director of Caracol Televisión’s International Sales, have established themselves as pioneering countries in the production of fiction content.

Estefania Arteaga, director of International Sales, Caracol TV (Colombia), and Berta Orozco, International Sales, TV Azteca (Mexico) 

“When we deliberate collaboration possibilities with third parties, it is very important that the stories transcend cultural barriers and can be understood and appreciated in any corner of the world,” Felipe noted. “We strive for content that are innovative and can acquire universal meaning, desired by both Colombian and Asian audiences. The interest that our recent original entertainment format, La Agencia (The Agency) has generated in Asia shows this tendency to generate productions that adapt to any type of audience.”

For Caracol Televisión, Asia is a very interesting territory to co-produce for several reasons. On the one hand, population in Asia is high, “which allows us to reach a very large audience when undertaking co-production projects”. On the other hand, Latin content has, historically, been very strong in Asia and that trend continues to be reinforced by Caracol Televisión’s sales of original productions to Asia this year, in particular a very recent adaptation of the super series, The Bronx (El Bronx) in Vietnam.

“In addition, Asian content producers stand out for creating family-oriented stories, which go hand-in-hand with our mission to produce universal content that can adapt to any audience,” Felipe continued.

Felipe’s view reflects that of Justin’s. While the notion of bringing expertise/talent from LATAM into the fold of a burgeoning APAC market is an already putative prospect, such projections, according to Justin, should apply to any region in our increasingly co-producible, globalised and content agnostic media environment.

“We've looked at libraries and formats of game shows and serialised dramas, animation, and comedies and hybrids (telenovelas mostly) for not just completed rights, but also reformatting rights for other markets. This has proven successful and has traction, with talents involved originally seeding the next expansion of the IPs with different sets of producers and buyers across the globe,” Justin expressed.

“Again, I come back to shared value systems in the socio-cultural context of the two regions - the content is similar and very relatable. The cost process of production and development are also quite comparable unlike Asia and Europe or North America, naturally allowing price points to be met more easily in negotiations and purchasing/selling.”

On the matter of what Asian VCs think about LATAM’s media industry in general when it comes to co-production at its various levels, Justin detailed that aside from genre content, the content flow tended to be more of a one-way relationship.

“Buyers tend to be from Asia, but we've seen in the last few years that some changes in how purchasing/licensing agreements being put together are becoming more like traditional co-pro relationships in other markets, but we're not seeing this yet between LATAM and Asia and I think that's about to change drastically in 2020 onwards, given how bought remake rights are being more exploited in Asia by producers and platforms,” Justin continued, noting that in this specific sphere, he is speaking for himself only.

“The imminent transformation will also be brought on by a changing ecosystem of Asian buyers willing to offer early presales to more producers, not just the usual suspects,” Justin continued.

Goldilocks commercial terms are also being met by Asian buyers more frequently now for foreign buyers and sellers, and this comes from exposure to new markets and international producers who have previously and recently pierced into Asian co-pros.

“The model isn't perfect yet, or even stable,” Justin remarked, “but my prevailing view is that we're interested in re-versioning content from LATAM for Asia, and I think it's a solid first step to creating organic and culturally relevant co-productions with talent from both sides, at very similar price points and expectations.”

LATAM’s Strength in a Story

Already, deeper connections have been established in 2018 with the meeting of two hearts and minds as India’s Green Gold Animation hopped on board the co-production train for the 3D animated musical comedy, “Escape to India”, with Gastón Gorali of Argentina’s Mundoloco CGI in the cab as well.

Mundoloco CGI is one of the biggest digital animation studios in LATAM and while this will be Mr Gorali’s first feature producing, he hasn’t dropped the ball yet, clearly aware that Buddhism and Indian spirituality will be a focal point of “Escape to India”.

For Gorali, religion and tradition, while amplifies the differences between India and Argentina, in addition to geographic distance, the human condition has superseded disparities with shared afflictions of being big dreamers and big survivors. “Our cultures,” noted Garali, “were built by overcoming adversities.”

R.K Chand, Executive Producer of Green Gold Animation Pte Ltd, noted that the story was the most important factor. As well, LATAM and India are two big markets for animation audiences, which also added to Green Gold Animation’s interest.

“LATAM and Asia comprise the largest Kids and Young audience today, and that presents a big opportunity for Kids Content Producers,” said R.K. “Collaboration between producers in these two regions can unlock immense potential, especially with the vibrant culture and spending power youths have today.

“Data also shows the penetration of the internet, and change in content viewing patterns of Kids in these two regions will help storytellers immensely in the near future. It has become a great opportunity to explore.”

In the end, despite the success of LATAM content in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, its dwindling commerce has not gone unnoticed. Yet, industry troupers like Bifrost Media’s Kevin, still believes in the LATAM potential. “The fact that there were deals made and paid for, Latin formats and content is a real success, as Latin content were not sold for some time.”

So what has to change to counter changes?

“Constant marketing and communications with broadcasters in Asia will greatly help,” Kevin enlightened, a suggestion that incites distinct relevance to the annual Asia TV Forum (ATF) in Singapore. “That's what the Koreans did before; now that they lost the Chinese market, they are doing it again, and I think this will work.”

This original version of this article was first published for Prensario Internacional , contributed by ATF’s editorial team.