Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Asia Side of the Doc: Five Big Takeaways from Tokyo

Last week’s Asia Side of the Doc was a memorable event.

  • Senior-level decision-makers attended.
  • There were lots of involved delegates from across the region.
  • The backdrop was a huge city that is still reeling from last year’s catastrophes.

Here are my “Big Five” Takeaways:

1.Tohoku Pitch

  • The “Tohoku Pitch” was a day of doc pitches by producers from the region that was hit hardest by the tsunami.
  • Story after story addressed devastating loss and the will to recover.
  • I recalled over and over again the suffering of our Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood after 9/11 – struck that Japan’s catastrophe was of a much larger scale.
  • We were all pleased to see that several of pitches appealed to France Televisions, Germany’s Autentic and others.

2. Japan’s Insularity

  • We heard that the 1-2-3 hit of earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima has challenged Japan’s decades-long inward trend.
  • Networks, stations and producers all said that they are eager to find new ways of telling stories.
  • They are open to new production models and new partners.

3. NHK / France Televisions

  • Two distant public broadcasters have committed themselves to a long-term copro relationship.
  • The Case Studies that they presented were fascinating. Congrats!!

4. Asia is Thriving!

  • The 2011 boom in the Asian TV market continues.
  • Western players like Discovery, Nat Geo, A+E and the BBC are expanding their footprints.
  • Some are replacing their pan-regional feeds with local channels that target newly viable markets.
    • Taiwan is a good example.
    • This creates opportunities for local Taiwanese producers
    • But budgets are very slim!
    • At the same time, regional and local players are looking across their borders while attempting to fill any vacant niches for channels.
  • I was forcefully reminded that ‘Asia’ is a vast region that is deeply divided by language, culture, economic development, regulation, creative tastes and much, much more.
    • The channels that are succeeding – like Discovery and Nat Geo – are pursuing a ‘guerrilla’ model that is dedicated to racking up small victories in distribution and programming.  (Admission: I worked on the pre-launch business plan for Discovery Asia.)
    • The frontal assault of the North American multichannel model doesn’t work!

5. China: “Watch out for the hype!”

  • 2011 was touted as the ‘The Year of the Documentary’
    • But China is still an emerging television market.
    • There is a thin but expanding cadre of experienced and talented doc producers.
    • They are centered on CCTV and the doc channels offered by regional governments.
  • The Online channel universe feels like a chaotic free-for-all.
  • A Westerner who is committed to factual co-production in China said, “We’re patiently waiting for the right project.  And we turn down a lot of the wrong ones. We’re prepared for a long wait.”


  • Congrats to Keiko Bang and Yves Jeanneau who are the organizers of ASD, their teams, hosts and sponsors.
  • It was a very special honor to participate in the “Year of the Tohoku Pitch.”
  • Photos: Mike Lee, Bang Productions Seoul.

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  1. Thanks Peter for being such a wonderful contributor and moderator at our event. We believe that not only is it representative of the way in which Asia finally coming together on some kind of conscious level about a unified market but also that the community across the region is beginning to understand the models for co-production, both within Asia and internationally. This is an important step – and I believe if we continue on this trajectory, Asia will indeed become the new frontier for the documentary genre..

    Much appreciation for your generosity and pearls of wisdom!


    Co-Organizer, Asian Side of the Doc

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