By Steve Brennan
July 10, 2007
Don't go knocking on China's door as a U.S. producer unless you are prepared to invest real time on the ground there, says the CEO of Philadelphia-based indie production house Small World Television, which is making entertainment shows there at an almost industrial rate.
Among its numerous successes in China, SWTV is in its 25th week of airing the groundbreaking Chinese version of "Access Hollywood," the first Western program format adapted and accepted for broadcast there on provincial satellite broadcaster NMTV.
SWTV CEO Jon Goodman is not short of personnel on the ground in Beijing, where all the company's local programming is produced. But he says, "I spend at least 10 days a month there myself." The company's executive vp, Joe Lynch, is permanently based there, but because SWTV produces through local production entities, Goodman says it's important for him to be on the ground a lot also.
"There is a great degree of cooperation with the Chinese production companies and it's not really complicated," he says. "You just have to abide by the programming guidelines there -- not unlike the way we abide by FCC rules here."
Goodman says that NMTV has just launched a lineup of daily and weekly half-hour shows from his company including "My Music," "My Night," "My Toys," "My Cupid," "My Fashion" and "My Celebrity," each covering an aspect of China's evolving popular culture and cutting-edge products. Also premiering is "Ma Gua Watching Films," a film review show featuring clips and critiques, a la "Ebert & Roeper."
According to SWTV's Lynch, all the production is carried out via consultancy producer arrangements with various Chinese production companies. In all, he notes, SWTV is creating 14 episodes of first-run television a week, "a feat for any company but particularly impressive for producers working in the People's Republic, shooting in Mandarin and airing in 105 cities across China to a broadcast universe of potentially 225 million viewers."
In addition, Goodman says that NMTV has picked up Small World's "My Road to Beijing," a series NMTV has just had approved by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the Chinese regulatory body. "My Road to Beijing" will follow the lives of several Chinese and American athletes over the next year as they prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. International track star and nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis will host the series, which was developed to air in both China and the U.S. Goodman says that Small World is in discussions to secure a U.S. broadcaster.
"The Chinese audience is very big on drama and soaps and now we are bringing entertainment show formats out there and they are pretty new. They are doing well," Goodman says. "These include movie review and music programs that have a look to them that we are probably more familiar with in the U.S. But they are playing very well to the 18- to 36-year-olds in the upper income bracket." He adds, "That is definitely the demographic that we are courting with our programming: the more internationally minded, upwardly mobile (18- to 36-year-olds), which is a rapidly growing section of the population."
Goodman also notes that the company has four soundstages in Beijing that are almost constantly in production mode as it prepares to build on its already impressive output of 14 series each week.