Seven years after beginning to explore the Chinese market and five years after opening an office, factual specialist NHNZ has emerged as one of the largest international producers of documentaries in the market, with nine projects in production, notes the company’s managing director, Michael Stedman.
“We made a decision to carefully grow and invest in the market for the long haul,” Stedman says. “We thought that interest in programming from China would grow as the Olympics approached and now we are arguably the largest [international factual] producer. Others who’ve waited to come in right before the Olympics are finding that it’s now too late.”
Recent Chinese productions include Chinese Megastructures, a co-production with National Geographic and China Intercontinental Communications Center.
Developing close relations with local partners and Chinese authorities has been a key component of their success. “Not rushing and taking time to understand the market has really paid off,” Stedman says. He adds that they’ve also provided training for the Chinese companies and worked to help their partners establish closer ties to international markets, making it the kind of two-way relationship that is important for success in China.
The company’s expansion in China is one aspect of the nimble footwork that has allowed NHNZ to survive the increasingly difficult business of factual programming.
“The biggest challenge facing all factual producers is that the opportunities have never been greater but the amount of money hasn’t expanded along with the opportunities,” says Stedman. “You have to find ways to work smarter and find ways to increase quality without spending more.”
Another major problem has been the slumping dollar, which has helped distributors of American programming, but hurt international documentary producers that are dependent on the U.S. market to finance a large portion of their budgets.
Stedman estimates that the sliding dollar has hurt their revenues by about 25% in the last two or three years.
To help overcome those problems, NHNZ has been expanding throughout Asia. Besides its extensive Chinese operations, it has close relationship with Japanese pubcaster NHK and has worked with NHK on number of high-profile projects, including The Equator.
NHNZ is also looking to expand its presence in Singapore and Stedman expects to announce those plans shortly.
The company, which generally has about 50 to 60 hours of production each year, is also putting more emphasis on new media. “We are looking to double our revenues next year and the year after that,” Stedman says. “Again, when money is growing from your traditional outlets you have to find new revenues.”
NHNZ, which is owned by News Corp., handles all of its production, co-production and presale deals. Sales of finished products are generally handled by Off the Fence.
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