Just last week, Japan’s leading pay-TV broadcaster WOWOW announced its latest co-production — a feature-length music documentary co-produced with Berlin-based Boomtown Media and Sony Classical, which follows the journey of the young genius and renowned musician, Cameron Carpenter, who has set out to reinvent the pipe organ. (Note: it won’t be finished by MIPCOM, but distributors will have a chance to pre-buy.)
During an interview last week, Kayo Washio, who runs WOWOW’s U.S. TV operations, told us that her company is looking to get involved with more of these kinds of co-productions, with both U.S. and European companies. Washio oversees acquisitions development, co-productions and original program productions for WOWOW (which she says is comparable to HBO in America). She will be WOWOW’s chief representative at MIPCOM. Here’s what else she had to say about her company, TV globalization and which international shows do well in Japan.
How long ago did WOWOW open an L.A. office. What was the impetus behind the move?
Two-and-a-half years ago. We’ve always acquired a lot of movies from the U.S. studios, and we’ve found that American series do well at 11 p.m., which is primetime in Japan. We thought it was also time to get involved in co-productions.
Which American shows have done well on WOWOW?
We’ve had success with Newsroom from HBO, The Following from Warner Bros., and Scandal from Disney.
What kinds of imported shows are most popular in Japan?
Procedural dramas like CSI. That’s the highest rated for WOWOW. Comedies don’t usually work, with the exception of Friends.
Why is there such a demand for foreign content in Japan now?
For one thing, in July, we launched WOWOW Members on Demand, which is just like HBO Go, so subscribers can catch up on anything they missed. We need a lot of content for that.
The Japanese TV market has changed, though. It used to be all about Hollywood blockbuster movies, but now Japanese movies are actually bigger. Now movies are dubbed, whereas in the past it used to be subtitles only. We used to only put blockbuster Hollywood movies on in primetime with subtitles, but now they’re dubbed (and often rebroadcast at other non-primetime with subtitles).
We also buy from England and France, and since we create the dubbed versions ourselves, the country of origin doesn’t matter as much.
When it comes to television, though, we’re seeing more foreign shows being popular.
CSI has almost the same ratings as an original Japanese TV series.
What kinds of co-productions are you interested in?
The most important thing we’re looking at is the quality of the productions. Our first co-production was Cathedral of Culture, a 26-minute, six-part 3D documentary project from Wim Wenders. Robert Redford is directing one of the episodes. We jumped in as co-producer. Producers, from all over the world, including Russia and Germany are involved. Those are the kinds of projects we’re interested in — particularly documentaries.
Creating co-production with American companies has been more of a challenge than European ones. Many of the U.S companies, like HBO for example, fund their series and docs 100 percent by themselves. Europe continues to be the largest market for co-production.
What’s your goal for MIPCOM?
We’re looking for high-quality content, and documentaries for co-production. We’ll meet with the studios, HBO, and U.S. and European networks. We normally look for TV series at the L.A. Screenings, but if there’s anything new and unique, we’ll think about it. We always wait to see the results until we buy new series.
What else do you want MIPCOM attendees to know?
That we don’t just acquire and broadcast content. Our partners, I believe considers us a to be great partners. We’ll also attend with a seller from Tokyo who can sell original programming.