By Lee Hyo-won
Amid the recent rise in popularity of foreign television shows here, British dramas like "Dr. Who" and "Prime Evil" are topping ratings of longtime American favorites like "CSI", according to Linfield Ng, senior TV sales manager at British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Worldwide Asia, the commercial arm of BBC that distributes such programs in Asia.
Ng and Oliver Rawlins, senior press officer of BBC Worldwide, discussed the changing frontier of TV entertainment in a private press interview Wednesday, during their participation in the Seventh Broadcast Worldwide Exhibition & Conference, held Aug. 29-31 at COEX Intercontinental Hotel, southern Seoul.
Broadcasting content buyers and exhibition participants -- some 250 companies from 30 countries -- gathered to join the Broadcast Worldwide (BCWW) 2008, Asia's largest comprehensive content distribution market, with broadcasting programs, new media content, animation and telenovelas.
"BBC Worldwide is Europe's number one exporter of TV programs, and TV sales increased by 21 percent in Asia alone", said Ng during a conference entitled "Driving Successful Media Convergence: What Works and What Doesn't?" earlier Wednesday.
"Asia always has been a crucial part of our business, but its role has grown enormously recently. (When distributing TV programs in Asia) we no longer simply sell programs but sell concepts, products and intellectual property both on and offline", added Rawlins.
While BBC is best known for its news coverage or documentaries, BBC Worldwide has branched out to different corners of the world through various entertainment channels. Game program "The Weakest Link" and reality show "Dancing with the Stars" have completely swept the United States. "Dancing" pairs celebrities with professional ballroom dancers, who each week compete by performing dances. The broadcaster is planning to expand the show to China, according to Ng.
Various natural history and kids programs, both co-production and direct distributions, are being aired in Malaysia and Vietnam as well. BBC Worldwide also reached out to fashionistas here through lifestyle networks like Olive and DongA TV. Talks are underway with Korea's TV fashion magazine OnStyle, said NG.
But what makes such BBC Worldwide programs successful is that each program is tailored to suit the taste of the local market.
"BBC has changed. Before we used to keep the programs the way they were. But `Dancing with the Stars" has an office in L.A. and works with local producers. Whether it be MBC or SBS, we localize the program… We make tweaks and changes according to the local laws and tastes of the local people, but hold onto the editorial part to retain the essence of the program", said Rawlins.
"We're still exploring co-production or local production opportunities here. Korea's revenue is the highest; China is of course important (to our business), but Korean dramas are huge in China -- so Korea is hugely important", said Ng.
"Also, you guys are so technologically driven. Korea was the first in the world to try IP VoD (Internet Protocol Video on Demand)", he said. BBC Worldwide has established digital media deals with KT and Hanaro Telecom for IP VoD services.
"I'm coming to Korea six to eight times a year, and each time there are so many changes with Pandora TV, mobile phones, it's hard to catch up. When I visit Samsung for example, I've never seen people deal with so many three-letter acronyms! I've heard that the average Korean cannot catch up with these technologies", he said with a chuckle.
"We cannot stress enough how much we're learning from you guys (Korea). S-DMB, DV HB? When people mention them to discuss them, we don't know what they are! We're always learning something new… in fact, our business itself is changing", agreed Rawlins, describing how distributors here have suggested broadcasting popular programs like "Dr. Who" on DMB so fans can enjoy watching them with their mobile phones in the subway.
Globalization is undoubtedly the 21st century's hottest keyword, and the entertainment business serves as a prime example of the increasing integration of ideas.
Entertainment programs featuring top celebrity guests here always been popular here, and Koreans may look forward to perhaps seeing their favorite stars dancing the night away through "Dancing with the Stars" Korea.