May 13, 2022

FilMart: Disney’s local production is a “long-term commitment” in Asia

To support the Disney Plus streaming service, Disney has expanded its involvement in local production in Asia-Pacific. Jessica Kam-Engle, Head of Content and Development at APAC, gives the keynote speech on the first day of Hong Kong FilMart.

Before her speech, she gave some tips for Variety readers.

Variety: What are the goals of Disney’s local production operations in Asia?

Jessica Kam-Engle: Based on our extensive research, consumers in most Asian markets have a strong preference for local language entertainment content. In recent years, the demand for Korean content in particular has grown tremendously in the region. Our local production operations in Asia Pacific have been set up with the aim of producing premium original content from this region to complement the global branded content of our iconic suite of franchises including Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Nat Geo and Star.

Rooted in quality storytelling, we aim to deliver a diverse portfolio of entertainment content on Disney Plus that will resonate with and beyond our target audience. We also aspire to showcase Asia-Pacific creative excellence to a global audience.

How is the content investment decision defined: by program volume? By nationality? By investment commitment?

We have a long-term and very exciting content plan in place, with a wide range of genres, across markets and languages ​​to cater to different audiences. Our new line of content from APAC will be some of the best in global storytelling that The Walt Disney Company is known for.

Our strategic focus for local production is centered not on volume of content (as we have a treasure trove of content across our branded franchises and an extensive library spanning decades) but on quality storytelling. We work with the region’s top content creators and talent to tell their authentic stories to a global audience.

What is the timeframe to achieve these goals? How far have they come so far?

We have ambitious goals and hope to greenlight over 50 APAC Originals by 2023. Over the past six months, we’ve released multiple titles including “Grid”, “Rookie Cops”, “Blackpink The Movie” and “Snowdrop” from South Korea; “Anita: Director’s Cut” from Greater China; “Susah Sinyal The Series” and “Virgin The Series” from Indonesia. This year alone, we plan to release over 20 Korean titles, including at least 12 Korean Originals on Disney Plus.

Consumer response to our APAC content listing has been positive and encouraging. Korean drama “Snowdrop” has secured a spot in the top five most-watched titles in the majority of APAC markets on Disney Plus.

Please explain the differentiation between “originals” and co-productions (like the recent deal with Nippon TV)?

Our APAC content roster includes local originals that we commission and develop, such as “Grid”, “Rookie Cops”, “Gannibal”, and “Teluh Darah”. This also includes co-productions with our broadcast and studio partners leveraging their local expertise – such as “Snowdrop” or “The Files of Young Kindaichi”.
Our strategic collaboration with Nippon TV Holdings includes efforts to co-produce local language content for the global streaming audience. This is very exciting as it provides us with long-term collaboration opportunities with strategic partners and Japanese creators, and allows us to bring high-quality and authentic Japanese series (like “Files of Young Kindaichi”) to the world stage.

What are the priority territories for local production and how does this relate to Disney Plus penetration?

We have local production efforts in Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia/Indonesia, Australia and Greater China. This is based on market priorities for our direct-to-consumer business, as well as local production needs and available expertise. From these production hubs, we have a steady supply of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Bahasa content that meets the region’s most popular local language content demands.

Hollywood studios have repeatedly failed in local film and TV production in Asia, often citing differences in corporate culture as the main reason for their withdrawal. What’s different this time around?

There are always lessons to be learned from the past to keep innovating in the creative industry. Our aspiration is to create locally relevant and most authentic content that will resonate with consumers. We believe this is the right time for us to make such a significant commitment to local content production.

The environment has changed drastically in recent years with the spread of OTT, more and more world-class content emerging from Asia-Pacific, and huge consumer appetite for local language content. Streaming has offered a platform for local productions from this region to be distributed and viewed by global audiences.

With our new focus on producing APAC content, we have established local production teams across the region. Our teams are market-driven and empowered to create and maintain premium content that is locally relevant.

The Walt Disney Company is here to build lasting relationships with the local creative community, to open new doors for APAC storytellers through creative collaboration, so their stories can be brought to the world stage.