Asian Martial Arts Brand One Championship Eyes Foray Into Film

Brandon Vera - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of One Championship

Having packaged Asia’s combat sports heritage to a global audience, the company is looking to strengthen its brand in the U.S. and China.

Asian sports media company One Championship is planning to extend its content production beyond live shows and reality series into filmmaking, having grown into the continent’s biggest property of its kind since its launch in 2011.

Possessing a global TV reach of 2.6 billion potential viewers in more than 140 countries, the organization packages and promotes such regional martial arts as kung fu, muay thai, karate, judo and kun khmer to a worldwide audience.

With its roster of “heroes” — more than 500 martial arts practitioners and fighters that the company discovered, marketed and helped shape their life stories — the company plans to venture into filmmaking to capitalize on human interest stories and further strengthen its brand. The company is backed by such investors as Sequoia Capital, Temasek Holdings, GIC, Iconiq Capital, Greenoaks Capital and Mission Holdings.

“With the right partners, we will create and distribute the right content. Movies, drama series, they are all on the agenda,” One Championship group president Hua Fung Teh told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview at the APOS media and entertainment industry convention in Bali, Indonesia.

“Ultimately we are about values, heroes and stories. Combat and fighting is the genre, but the platform is humanity," he explained. "It’s really about these heroes that we unleash, and people follow them and become fans. When we have heroes, you can do a lot with them. You don’t just have to put them in a ring or a circle and compete, you can make a movie. Because ultimately a lot of human interest angles are about storylines and about how these people came up."

After nurturing its brand across the globe, the Singapore-headquartered One gained the distinction of being the first Asian sports content producer to land a major deal with a U.S. broadcaster. It sealed a TV partnership deal with Turner Sports last December, with the live events it produces air across Turner’s online and offline platforms, including TNT and streaming service B/R Live.

The priority for the company now is to maximize the potential of the partnership to make it mutually beneficial. “The U.S. is a key market for us. The Turner partnership is a very significant deal. It was the first time a major U.S. broadcaster has paid for Asian sports rights. It’s actually quite groundbreaking. I think it’s a testament to the quality of our product, not just in combat sports but in all sports, and a testament to the ground we’ve been breaking in Asia. It hasn’t been done,” Teh said.

“Right now we’re focusing on the Turner partnership and making sure it’s win-win for both of us, and building the brand. The nice thing is that Americans love martial arts and combat sports," he added. "Even before we went to the U.S., we’d already had a big fan base there because of our social media and OTT presence from our own app.” The company is opening an office in the U.S., and its content is also accessible on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on its dedicated channels.

For regions closer to home, the sports media entity is leveraging the homegrown nature of martial arts to extend its reach in China. “Let’s not forget that many of the martial arts that we see in the world today have origins in China," Teh said. "And there are many forms and styles that came from China. It has such a rich cultural history of martial arts, and it is such a big country. And I think no one martial arts platform has really risen above the rest, and we’re all bringing up the industry together, so I think in the long term China is obviously a big piece of our strategy.”

One has established a partnership with China’s leading online video platform Tencent, which exclusively broadcast all of the company’s live events. “We’ll be doing more digital partnerships in the future, and deepening our Tencent partnership. We are talking with Tencent about how to work more on the production and content side," Teh said. “China’s digital economy is quite mature. You have big digital players, you have smaller ones that are coming up, and you have more social media oriented platforms, and also streaming oriented platforms. So the way to grow is to have as many partnership as you can, have them exist in harmony, not just with each other but with our TV partnerships."

He also cited the NBA as an example. “They have many, many partnerships [in China], and they generally exist harmoniously. Once you have those partnerships, then you build the brand," he said. "It’s a combination of smart marketing plus good content. We have all sorts of content — live events, magazine shows, reality shows, we already have a local feed in China that we started up."

The company also has a TV partnership with Great Sports under Shanghai Media Group. “But China is a big place. We welcome partners that want to work with us, on a regional or national basis," Teh said. "That’s the beauty of having an IP like us, you can create all sorts of content."