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CreAsia Studio’s Jessica Kam-Engle On Producing Content For Southeast Asia: “As Streamers Pull Back On Originals, The Need For Buying Grows”

After stints heading local-language production at Disney APAC and HBO Asia, Hong Kong-based Jessica Kam-Engle is now heading CreAsia Studio, a new Banijay Asia venture in Southeast Asia, in the role of EVP & Business Head.

Sitting down with Deadline in Hong Kong in the run-up to Filmart, Kam-Engle told us more about the new venture, which was first unveiled in early February. She says she’s recently enjoyed delving into Banijay’s vast library of formats, some of which are being lined up for local adaptations, and is also developing a slate of originals across multiple territories.

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Kam-Engle is reporting into and working closely with Deepak Dhar, Founder & Group CEO, Banijay Asia & Endemol Shine India, who is based in Mumbai.

During her time at Disney, Kam-Engle commissioned more than 60 original series including  Korean dramas Moving, Big Bet and Connect, Japan’s live-action Gannibal, and Chinese-language anthology series Taiwan Crime Stories.

Prior to her stints at Disney and HBO Asia, she also worked with MTV Networks/Viacom, MGM Gold Network, Dow Jones Newswires, and Celestial Pictures, and from 2008 to 2016 worked as an independent producer in Hong Kong and Beijing, with credits including Zhang Meng’s The Piano In A Factory.

DEADLINE: Can you tell us more about the different content strands you are developing? How will the Banijay library feed into CreAsia Studio’s production plans?

JESSICA KAM-ENGLE: CreAsia Studio is a pan-regional production company that focuses on creating Asian originals, as well as producing localized Banijay IP adaptations in Southeast Asia. Banijay’s vast library of formats, with some of the world’s biggest IP brands, is a tremendous resource for adaptation in the region. We’re keen to bring local versions of exciting formats such as Running Wild – Bear Grylls, Big Brother, Survivor, etc to new audiences in those markets. Equally, we’d like to collaborate with local creators to develop original content from this part of the world and grow them into international brands amongst the likes of The Bridge, Rogue Heroes and Marie Antoinette, leveraging the powerful global distribution network of Banijay.

DL: Where will your team be based? Will you work closely with Deepak Dhar and India?

JK: Our small core team is currently in Hong Kong and Singapore, but we will set up production resources primarily where the markets are. I strongly believe in serving markets locally with local talents and sensibilities. And where we can’t fully cover, we’ll rely on trusted local partnerships to complement our reach.

Banijay Asia has achieved tremendous success in India under the leadership of Deepak Dhar. As we extend this momentum to Southeast Asia, there are established infrastructures in India that we can take advantage of to help us build our new business in Southeast Asia. For example, for certain shows like Big Brother or MasterChef, which already have ongoing productions in India, it can be more cost-effective for new productions to be shot in the established Indian sets.

We will also explore creating other production hubs in Southeast Asia for specific formats, as we start producing more in those markets. There are lots of synergies we can create together with our India base as well as with our European counterparts. In having Banijay Rights positioned in India for distribution purposes, we also have proximity to the team’s invaluable market knowledge and network honed for finished tape purposes.

DL: Which Asian territories are you currently most excited about in terms of the talent available and the potential to produce?

JK: Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines. Sizable markets, good talent pools, and lots of potential to grow.

DL: Do you see the global streamers’ recent pullback in local-language production as an opportunity to fill the gap – or are they likely to be acquiring less also? Who will be the major buyers for CreAsia Studio’s productions?

JK: If you don’t cook dinner tonight, you’d go out and buy, because you still need to eat. And Asians can’t eat burgers every day. Local content has proven to be quintessential in driving local subscription and engagement for audiences in Asia. I expect that as streamers are pulling back on local production, the need for them to acquire local content will be higher. And that’s a good opportunity for us as a platform-agnostic content provider to fill the gap. I fully appreciate the competitive environment is intense, hence a strong positioning is more important than ever.

CreAsia’s buyers are the regional and local streamers, as well as the local broadcasters. Drawing on the strengths of our team’s expertise, we are developing a very desirable slate of premium original content with some of the best creators in the region. At the same time, we also have the world’s biggest catalogue of formats to adapt from, and formats tend to represent a safer bet in a turbulent market. This unique combination gives us the advantage to offer the widest range of content to cater to the needs of our client.

DL: Are you producing mostly for Asian audiences, or do you see potential for some content to travel further afield?

JK: The priority is always to serve the local audience first in the local market.  We’d always like to produce a show that is a local success. For original shows, we try to pick the ones that have the potential to travel or be adapted in other markets. With Banijay’s strength in international distribution via Banijay Rights, and expertise in creating world-renowned TV formats, we hope to have the opportunity to create some global franchises from this part of the world.

DL: Will you get get involved in co-financing and retaining some rights for any of your productions?

JK: We are quite flexible in terms of partnership models, which could range from fully commissioned productions to various ways of licensing where we own or share IPs. We will explore what makes most sense for a partnership on a case-by-case basis.

DL: As a Hong Kong resident, what are your top tips for places to visit during Filmart?

JK: Foodwise: other than the myriad Michelin-starred fancy restaurants you can easily find on Google search, I’d recommend Sang Kee, Oriental Vegetarian, Kam’s Roast Goose and Yixin Restaurant near the Convention Center; or the fresh seafood in Lei Yue Mun or Saikung. Must also try some dim sum or “cha chan teng” (HK style cafes) in the neighborhood.

To do: Talk a walk along the newly revamped harbour front promenades that stretch all the way from Kennedy Town to Quarry Bay.

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