L-R: Aileen Paredes, ABS-CBN Philippines; ​Pipope Panitchpakdi, Thai PBS; Artine S Utomo, RTV Indonesia; Shamala Rajendran, Medi

Feature

Asia’s factual bosses track shift to local programming

The eighth edition of factual fest Asian Side of the Doc (ASD) wrapped in Bangkok at the end of January with a focus on the shift to local programming and lots of discussion around rising demand for digital content.

Delegates at the four-day event in the Thai capital also heard about what kinds of factual programming were working best in which markets in Asia. 

Organisers counted 350 people through the door and said 35 countries were represented. 

Pipope Panitchpakdi, deputy director of Thai PBS, talked about demand shifting from being “heavily westernised towards Eastwood”, the right factual mix and the importance of building the culture of producers to prevent “documentary genre to become just another TV snack”.

“It doesn’t have to be only a feel-good kind of documentary that we welcome but things that make people think about; nature is always one of the high-viewed factual pieces, the development paradigm, mining activities,” Panitchpakdi said.

Aileen Paredes, female specialty channels unit head for Philippines broadcaster ABS-CBN, pointed out how the dominant drama genre enhances the factual offering in the Philippines. 

“By incorporating the elements of drama in presenting stories, it has proven to be more receptive to the Philippines audience,” she said. 

Paredes also talked about her greatest challenge – fulfilling production demand for a market expanding rapidly into digital/multiscreen. This has launched a hunt for factual content that can sit comfortably across multiple platforms. 

A panel discussion on the rise of regional streaming services focused on what factual works best for which platform.

HOOQ’s chief content officer, Jennifer Batty, noted a gap for factual entertainment on her line up, and said her audiences wanted easy viewing. “You can’t just be movies and series,” she added. 

At the same time, “people are not coming to us for historical documentary, they are going to look for the History channel or their public broadcaster, so for us it’s going to be a little bit more about light-hearted viewing, a bit more entertainment viewing, and when they walk away they’re going to feel that they learned something. So, it’s going to be factual that is a little bit light-hearted,” Batty said.  

Joe Suteestarpon, CEO of Thai’s Mediaplex International agreed that factual was a critical part of a streaming/on-demand offering.

Mediaplex’s OTT DOONEE offers more than 10,000 hours of content, including 800-1,000 hours of factual.

Artine S. Utomo, president director of Indonesia’s four-year old private station, RTV (Rajawali Televisi Indonesia), highlighted demand for factual programming that was both entertaining and educational.

“We need documentaries delivered in such a way that is inspiring... and creates a change in the mindset of the mass audience to boost their way of life,” Utomo said.

Relatability was also key, said Shamala Rajendran, commissioning editor for Mediac​orp Singapore. 

“There are many filmmakers, docu producers who have great stories but some of them tend to be too insular, or too specific to a place or situation. And our audience can’t relate to them,” said Rajendran.

Aegena Tay, director, programming development for regional distributor, Bomanbridge Media, said the range of factual programme demand in Asia was broad, and, in some markets, dictated to by content codes and regulations. Some services, for instance, preferred “happy, warm, friendly animal content” rather than predatory or “too much animal violence,” she said.

TV Burabha, Thailand’s international marketing content director, Nattanan Kulrapeekorn, said her priority for culture and wildlife content was timeless relevance. 

“What we’re doing is going to be relevant until the end of time because culture and wildlife projects stay forever. What is on the ticking clock are series on festivals that could last maybe 4 to 5 years,” she said, adding: “Factual content can be watched a hundred years from now because the truth is the truth and it can be told a hundred times in different ways for any market.”