Content exports are largely divided into two major sales groups: broadcasting rights sales and format sales. Broadcasting rights sales refers to the sale of contents that were produced on domestic channels, such as South Korea’s tvN, to be aired on overseas channels and platforms. On the other hand, format sales involve proposal plans and production knowledge of original content that is then purchased by overseas producers and localized for broadcast in their own respective countries. Consequently, format sales have a higher added value than broadcasting rights sales and provide an easy entrance into countries that the Korean Wave has yet to reach. To illustrate the value of content format sales, CJ Newsroom is revealing the story behind the global expansion of Mnet’s “I Can See Your Voice”.
‘I Can See Your Voice’ Makes Its Debut on Overseas Networks
If you tune into the U.S.’s FOX network every Wednesday at 8 p.m., you may recognize an entertainment program that originates from a different part of the world. This program is the U.S. version of Mnet’s “I Can See Your Voice”, a music entertainment show that has been successfully aired in South Korea for nine seasons. The program’s U.S. launch experienced a similar success, debuting at number one amongst programs aired during the same time slot in September 2020. In January 2022, the show began its second season which drew even more positive feedback. This new season features well-known celebrities, such as Jason Mraz, who appear on each episode as “Music Superstars” and aid contestants in separating talented singers from imposters. However, there’s a catch – the celebrities and contestants must correctly identify the true talent without hearing them sing a single note.
Since it first aired in South Korea in February 2015, “I Can See Your Voice” has been sold to major networks in 25 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, and has been well received in each country. For instance, the first episode of the U.S. version of “I Can See Your Voice” aired on the FOX Channel attracted 4.6 million viewers, claiming the number one spot among other U.S. shows airing at the same time slot over the past three years.
This incredible response isn’t specific to the U.S. Local adaptations of “I Can See Your Voice” have been well received throughout the world. The U.K. version of the program, aired on the BBC, took the Saturday prime time spot. On the first day of its broadcast, the show drew nearly 5 million viewers, taking 28.1% of the viewer share and achieving the highest overall viewer rating among the U.K.’s non-sports shows. As a result, the program secured a second season well before the first season ended.
Adding to these outstanding results, the German version of the program ranked number one on its broadcasting network RTL and has confirmed the production of Season 3. Furthermore, the Dutch adaptation broadcasted on the RTL4 Channel has confirmed the production of Season 4, making it the fastest country in Europe to commit to a fourth season. The French version is aired on M6, the country’s largest private broadcasting station, the Spanish version on Antenna 3, and the Belgian version airs on the country’s largest private broadcasting channel VTM. Moreover, Thailand’s “I Can See Your Voice” has been steadily gaining in popularity, exceeding over 250 episodes since its first broadcast on the WP channel in 2016.
‘I Can See Your Voice’ Leverages Originality to Overcomes Challenges
However, format sales for “I Can See Your Voice” came with its own set of challenges. Only a few years ago in 2015, selling Korean content was difficult, even within the Asian market. During that time, long-standing buyers of the company’s drama broadcasting rights were wary of new content. Businesses that once felt like family grew cold, were unresponsive and avoided meetings. Asia-based companies questioned why they should buy CJ ENM’s content format instead of formats like “The Voice” which had already proven to be successful in dozens of countries. Moreover, U.S. and European broadcasting companies, which have already produced outstanding music entertainment programs such as “The X Factor” and country-specific adaptations of the “Idol” franchise for decades, had no reason to buy the entertainment content format of CJ ENM, a new entrant into this field.
To overcome this problem, CJ ENM decided to brand itself as a company that is not only known for its excellence in producing dramas, but is also recognized for original music and entertainment programs as showcased through the “I Can See Your Voice” format. The CJ ENM Overseas Business Team 2 began working on this task by conducting research. The team performed interviews with buyers to gather data that would help CJ ENM target overseas clients. They also monitored news covering format business and carried out regional market research. In addition, CJ ENM actively participated in overseas content markets and prioritized building and maintaining positive relationships with potential buyers. After drama broadcasting rights sales meetings, team members would make an effort to follow up with the clients and presented them with gifts for their families such as K-pop CDs or posters. They also sent emails to more than 1,000 potential buyers before participating in MIPCOM (MIP), the world’s largest content gathering of television and media professionals held in Cannes every April.
The team’s efforts started to bear fruit. “I Can See Your Voice” began to take off in Asia, and consequently, the brand value of CJ ENM expanded. Before the pandemic, the CJ ENM Overseas Business Team 2 members had 50 to 60 meetings per person over a span of four days at MIP. Potential buyers who once said, “It’s just another music entertainment program,” now showed great interest in “I Can See Your Voice”. Client’s interests were piqued by the program’s unique concept of showcasing talented singers without first listening to them sing while setting up a game-like structure that allows even a tone-deaf performer to win the title. By highlighting the distinctive advantages of the “I Can See Your Voice” format along with the brand value of CJ ENM, the team was able to achieve great results evidenced by its successful export of the show format to 25 countries.
CJ ENM’s Position in the Global Format Industry
In an annual report titled “Tracking the Giants: The Top 100 Traveling Unscripted Formats” published in 2021 by K7 Media, a British global media consulting firm, South Korea was named Territory of the Year 2020 for having the most active format business industry. Furthermore, CJ ENM received the title of Top Exporter of Asian Unscripted Formats for exporting the most content formats in 2020. South Korea has become the third largest country in the world for format sales and accumulated number of format export contracts, gaining a sizeable global influence in the overseas format industry. Content format sales data from 2021 and 2022 shows South Korea ranked third along with the U.S., following the U.K at number one and the Netherlands at number two. When CJ ENM first started selling formats, it began with studying the business and industry by monitoring relevant overseas reports. However, now CJ ENM has been named as a leading content company in such overseas reports, surpassing even its own expectations.
The CJ ENM Overseas Business Team 2 still strives to tap into new markets. The growing popularity of Korean content that has taken the world by storm including “Crash Landing on You”, “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” and “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” presents a great growth opportunity that cannot be missed. CJ ENM’s next target is the global over-the-top (OTT) platform which places a focus on streaming media. In the future, CJ ENM’s Overseas Business Team 2 will continue to work hard today, and every day to bring exciting content formats on global OTT platforms to enthusiastic viewers all around the world.