ITV's Talpa Finds New Partner for 'The Voice of China' in $60M Deal with Zhejiang Tangde

Star China Media
Zhang Lei, winner of season 4 of 'The Voice of China'

Talpa has filed legal action against its former Chinese partner Star China Media, claiming the company took "unauthorized and unlawful" actions in relation to "The Voice" format.

Dutch TV producer Talpa Global, owned by U.K. TV giant ITV, has found a new Chinese partner for The Voice.

Talpa announced Friday that it has signed a new contract with media group Zhejiang Tangde to produce over 200 variety TV shows in China, including Seasons 5-8 of The Voice of China. The Voice component of the deal alone is said to be valued at $60 million and Talpa says Zhejiang Tangde is committing another $50 million towards a joint venture to be used for the development of other local formats.

The first four seasons of The Voice of China were produced together with Star China Media and drew huge audiences. But Talpa canceled its deal with Star China Media and is in the midst of a legal dispute with its former partner, accusing Star China of unlicensed use of the reality talent show format,

On Friday, Talpa sought an interlocutory injunction in a Hong Kong court against Star China and its affiliate Meng Xiang Qiang Yin Cultural and Broadcast (Shanghai) Company, to restrain the Chinese media businesses from producing and airing season 5 of The Voice of China. Talpa says it terminated all existing contractual rights relating to the show in China on Jan. 8.

"Therefore, the defendants no longer have any rights to produce or procure the broadcast of The Voice of China," Talpa said in a statement, adding: "Talpa will shortly be taking further legal steps to enforce and protect its rights from further unauthorized use by the defendants."

"Much to our surprise Star has made a lot of noise about actually making a Season 5, saying they own the rights, which is obviously ridiculous," Pim Schmitz, CEO of Talpa Holding told THR by phone.

When asked why negotiations to extend the contract with Star had broken down, Schmitz said: "Well, we like to have close, collaborative partnerships with the producers of our formats, and let's just say I don't have the impression that Star saw us as a partner."

Season 4 of The Voice of China, which featured celebrity judges Na Ying, Wang Feng, Jay Chou and Harlem Yu, was a huge hit for Star China. It was the top-ranked show for all 13 weeks of the latest season, according to CSM Media Research, China's leading TV ratings data provider.

Star China started auditions for a planned Season 5 in November, according to Chinese media sources. It was expected to be begin airing in July.

The Voice of Holland, the first version of the hit format, was created by reality TV maestro and Talpa founder John de Mol in 2010. One of the most successful TV formats ever, like the Idol and X Factor franchises, over 60 version of The Voice have been produced around the world, in countries ranging from the U.S. to Brazil, Germany, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

China has been a key priority in Talpa's international expansion plans. In 2014, the company signed a deal with Chinese online giant Tencent to develop non-scripted formats for China's booming streaming video market. Last summer, the partners unveiled their first co-production, The 15 of Us, a reality format loosely based on Talpa's Utopia.

“I am delighted to announce our exciting new partnership with Zhejiang Tangde,” said John De Mol, founder of Talpa Media. “I firmly believe that we have found a great new business partner with whom we look to expand our business in Greater China and beyond."

Zhejiang Tangde, which also goes by the English name Talent International, is a multi-faceted entertainment company, with operations in film, TV and talent management. The group was Lionsgate's local marketing partner for the Hunger Games franchise in China, as well co-distributor of the films with China Film Group. The company's next local Chinese release will be Skiptrace, a U.S.-China co-production directed by Renny Harlin and starring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville and Fan Bingbing, due out in February.

Star China, meanwhile, is one of China's largest media groups, with businesses spanning TV production, TV networks, filmmaking, artist management and concert production. Formerly owned and controlled by Rupert Murdoch's then-News Corp., the company was acquired by state-backed public equity and venture capital firm Chinese Media Capital in 2010. Its other top-rated shows include local versions of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars.

Star China has also produced original reality formats of its own, including Sing My Song, in which contestants sing tunes they composed themselves. The hit show drew a total viewership of 480 million for its first season in 2014.

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Star China Media for comment.