In China, Western TV Companies Go Co-Production Route

BBC America
Endemol Shine recently partnered to create a Mandarin-language adaptation of its hit U.K. crime drama 'Broadchurch.'

Faced with being locked out of what is — by audience size if not by revenue — the world's largest TV market, Western companies are changing tactics.

In response to Chinese regulators further tightening foreign TV content quotas, Western producers and broadcasters at MIPCOM this week unveiled pacts that focus less on selling to the Middle Kingdom and more on partnering up.

Imports are now restricted to a maximum of 30 percent of all programming, and regulators extended the law in September to include non-Chinese films, TV series, animation, documentaries, variety shows and even sports.

Faced with being locked out of what is — by audience size if not by revenue — the world's largest TV market, Western companies are changing tactics, favoring collaborations with Chinese partners instead of traditional licensing deals. Endemol Shine China, a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based production giant behind shows such as Big Brother and MasterChef, inked a major deal with China's No. 2 national network, Hunan TV, to co-create new formats for the local market. Hunan TV has been home to several of the country's biggest imported formats, including Dancing With the Stars and 1 vs. 100, but in line with new government regulations, the network has shifted toward homegrown shows.

Endemol Shine has followed suit. In addition to the format deal, the company said Monday that it would collaborate with Chinese partners Blue&White&Red Pictures and Cloudwood to create a Mandarin-language adaptation of its hit U.K. crime drama Broadchurch.

Speaking to the Hunan TV deal, Endemol Shine China managing director William Tan made clear the move's political motivations, noting that it builds "on the opportunities presented by the vibrant Chinese content creation market, and in line with the government's call for further content innovation and export."

Viacom's China pacts — a five-year animation development project between Nickelodeon and the National Radio and Television Administration, China's state broadcasting authority; and a team-up between MTV and China's WebTVAsia to co-produce made-in-China shortform content for local Gen-Zers — follow the same strategy of getting around local quotas and staying on the good side of the Beijing government.

MIPCOM also saw Beijing achieve its other stated goal of increasing Chinese TV exports. Endemol Shine joined forces with state broadcaster CCTV to co-develop a global format based on The Nation's Greatest Treasures, a docu-tainment show that focuses on museums and national artifacts, while Fox Networks Group took worldwide format rights to reality competition The Dunk of China, which features NBA star Jeremy Lin as a judge of up-and-coming basketball talent. The series' August premiere drew more than 50 million views on Chinese streamer Youku.

But just how much Western producers and copyright holders will reap from these deals remains to be seen. China is still notoriously lax about copyright theft — recent cases involved alleged ripoffs of hit formats such as The Voice and South Korean talent show Produce 101. And notably, a creative alliance among international TV producers' associations unveiled at MIPCOM on Monday included groups from virtually every major TV nation worldwide — with the glaring exception of China.

Patrick Brzeski contributed to this report.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.