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Dialling into digital

Jan 20. 2014
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Kantana sets out to win the hearts of viewers with remakes of popular American series.
Thailand's television production companies are all abuzz these days as they prepare to profit from the switch from analog terrestrial transmissions scheduled for April with the launch of 24 new commercial digital channels.
Kantana, one of the largest of these production companies, decided against competing in the recent auction to operate the new channels, preferring to focus its energies on providing the newcomers with both home-grown productions and the rights to broadcast world-renowned shows.
Last Friday, the production house hosted a press conference to introduce its new shows. They include the animation “Line Town” from Japan, a local talk show titled “Manut Pralard Chart Thai” (“I Am Thai”) and two reality shows – The Face” for wannabe models and “The Taste” for up-and-coming chefs. Also coming to the screen soon is “Don’t Lose Money” as well as the Thai remakes of popular American series “Ugly Betty” and “Gossip Girl”.
Piyarat Kaljaruek, director of development for Kantana’s New Media department, says the group decided to buy international programmes based on their ratings as well as how well they can be adapted to Thai culture.
“The new channels will not just be watched by Bangkok audiences but also viewed countrywide, so we are working hard on the adaptations,” says Piyarat, who is the eldest son of Kantana Group executive chairman Jaruek Kaljaruek.
While cable service provider TrueVisions has remade three Korean dramas for Thai viewers in recent months, this is the first time that any such attempt has been made with American series. Both “Ugly Betty” and “Gossip Girl” in their native versions have proved popular with TrueVisions’ viewers, and Piyarat says that the remakes are aimed at new target groups.
“We have an animation that appeals to younger audiences and reality programmes that adults love. But we don’t have any series targetting the teens and we want to provide programming that will appeal to this segment,” he says.
Piyarat is confident that the two series have the potential for adaptation but admits that the remake rights have proved costly, with Kantana having to buy all 169 episodes of “Ugly Betty” with no guarantee of local rating success. “Gossip Girl” is less of a risk as the rights can be purchased season by season. A franchise fee of about US$4,000 to $8000 (Bt128,000 to Bt256,000) per episode is added to the cost.
Script adaptation on both series is now ongoing and the airing date has been provisionally scheduled for June or July.
“They will screen in primetime but we can’t yet reveal which TV channel will air the series,” says Piyarat.
He acknowledges that the cost will be very high if the adaptations fail to work. TrueVisions chose different approaches for the Thai versions of “Coffee Prince,” “Autumn In My Heart” and have only achieved real success with “Full House”, having learned from their mistakes with the first two.
Potentially complicating matters for Kantana is the fact that the adaptations need approval from the owners of the right – both in terms of script and cast – before they can be aired.
“Ugly Betty” chronicles the adventures of Latina ugly duckling Betty Suarez as she lands her first job with a famous fashion magazine. Clad in unfashionable clothes and unaware of the grooming that would improve her looks, she makes progress in her career thanks to her kindness.
The story has been remade by several other countries, which should help Kantana in choosing the right adaptation and casting the protagonist.
“We are considering making the Betty character an illegal immigrant from a neighbouring country. We haven’t yet chosen an actress to play the role,” says Piyarat.
The Thai “Gossip Girl” is also expected to come to the screen this year but the adaptation is likely to be more complicated as the original story focuses on the lives of rich teenagers attending a leading private high school in New York City’s upper East side.
As romance, family matters as well as sex and drugs are also involved, the Thai version might be set in an international school or perhaps even cover girls in their first year at college.
Piyarat is also eyeing Japanese Korean dramas as well as HBO series but says the latter is not likely to materialise as HBO doesn’t have a policy to sell the remake rights. 
With demands for productions likely to increase following the launch of the 24 new channels, Kantana’s chief executive of the TV business Sasikorn Chansate says the content will need to be more creative if it is to attract sponsors.
TV dramas aside, Kantana is known for its reality shows, among them “Ruang Jing Phan Jor” (“Reality through the Screen”) which presents clips from actual incidents of crime, accident and human interest as well as “Big Brother”.
With its fully equipped studios, Kantana has an advantage in producing imported TV shows and dramas. The producers of such international reality shows “Big Brother” and “Sabotage” have hired the Kantana studios as a way of saving costs.
And there’s good news for fans of the “Big Brother” concept. Piyarat says the local version of the reality show will be back this year and may even enjoy a revamp in line with modern trends.
“Celebrity Big Brother” anyone?

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