Asia’s original content wars heat up

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While Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been pouring investment into local-language content across Asia for the past few years, several regional SVOD platforms have now entered the fray with a slew of announcements over the past few months.

At the recent Asia Pacific Operators Summit (APOS) in Bali, Singapore-based HOOQ, which is backed by Sony and Warner Bros, unveiled a slate of five originals – including three movies and two series.

HOOQ previously announced that its producing a miniseries based on Filipino director Erik Matti’s award-winning feature On The Job (pictured), which screened in Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. During APOS, the streaming platform said the pilot episode of that series will be released as a feature film in August.

In addition, HOOQ is producing a series in the Philippines – eight-part romantic comedy The T Party, revolving around a fictional online dating app. Set to premiere on HOOQ at the end of the year, the show will involve directors such as Joyce Bernal and Marvin Agustin.

Other movies on HOOQ’s slate include Critical Eleven, an adaptation of Ika Natassa’s best-selling novel, and Sweet 20, an Indonesian remake of hit Korean body swap comedy Miss Granny. HOOQ has also invested in Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts, directed by Indonesia’s Mouly Surya, alongside French and Indonesian production companies. Marlina will receive its world premiere in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight next week.

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur-based iflix, which has backing from Sky and Liberty Global, has also announced a string of originals – including Magic Hour, an eight-part drama series spun off from a hit Indonesian movie, and an eight-part comedy series to be produced in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Iflix is also entering Arabic-language production as it gears up to launch across the Middle East and North Africa. The streamer has teamed up with Dubai-based Front Row Filmed Entertainment, Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC) and Cairo-based Shadows Communications to produce Egyptian comedy series Tough Luck.

Not to be outdone, Viu, a mobile-based VOD platform owned by Hong Kong’s PCCW, is producing Hindi-language thriller Gehraiyaaan and entertainment industry-themed drama Spotlight with Bollywood filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, while its originals outside of India focus on celebrity content and lifestyle shows.

Streaming platforms in Japan, mainland China and India have long been producing originals – Chinese platform Youku recently announced its producing a local version of Saturday Night Live following a deal with NBCUniversal, while its rival iQiyi has teamed up with Sony Pictures Television to produce a Chinese-language version of Chosen.

The two global streaming giants – Amazon Prime Video and Netflix – are also active in local production across the region, although they’ve tended to focus on territories with big audiences and established content industries that skew heavily towards local-language content – in particular India, South Korea and Japan.

Netflix has already scored hits with Japanese shows such as Hibana: Spark and Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories; lined up Korean series Kingdom and Love Alarm; and is working with India’s Phantom Films on an adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s novel Sacred Games.

Amazon is producing a slew of shows across different formats and genres, with drama offerings including Bollywood director Kabir Khan’s The Forgotten Army (working title), about the army that fought for India’s independence from the British, and maverick Japanese director Sion Sono’s Tokyo Vampire Hotel.

Neither streaming giant has so far done much with Chinese-language content – presumably because they’re not allowed to launch operations in mainland China. However, Netflix recently licensed some of its shows including Black Mirror and Stranger Things to iQiyi. When the deal was announced, iQiyi vice president Yang Xianghua hinted that the two companies might work together on original shows.

The reasons for entering original production are manifold – as competition among streaming platforms increases, there’s a growing need to win subscribers, differentiate services and offset the high cost of acquiring content. In a highly-fragmented, multi-platform world, it’s also become more important than ever to control rights across more windows.

Traditional broadcasters have long been aware of these factors and Asian networks such as HBO Asia and Fox Networks Group Asia (FNGA) are also ramping up their original offerings. HBO Asia has produced successful shows such as Serangoon Road and The Teenage Psychic, while FNGA recently announced two high-end miniseries – financial thriller Trading Floor, co-produced with Tencent and Andy Lau’s Focus Television, and crime thriller Stained, directed by Patrick Kong.

The winners in these content wars will inevitably be local producers and talent, who are likely to see an increase in fees echoing what has been happening in the West, as well as Asian consumers who will be able to enjoy a wider range of content across different languages and genres.

As for the losers – any smaller platforms that are not already part of a big conglomerate, or funded to the hilt with a warchest of hundreds of millions of dollars, are going to find it difficult to keep up.