The Yomiuri ShimbunFuji Television Network Inc. is coproducing a drama series about European soccer with a subsidiary of the German public broadcasting company ZDF, aiming to broadcast and distribute the program globally.
Fuji’s coproduction of “The Window” with ZDF Enterprises appears to involve some risk, as its estimated production cost is about ¥2 billion — almost as expensive as a blockbuster film and several times the cost of an ordinary TV drama series.
However, “our rivals are the huge drama series produced in North America,” Toru Ota, senior executive managing director of Fuji Television, told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “We have to do [this coproduction] so we don’t lag behind global trends.”
The title of the drama derives from the transfer windows among European football clubs and players, which involve high transfer fees ranging from the equivalent of several billion yen to over ¥10 billion. The 10-episode series centers around a transfer window for a young prodigy in the English Premier League. The interests and agenda of his family and agent are tangled up in a complex web, and a global-scale conspiracy is gradually revealed.
The script was written by British screenwriter James Payne, who has been involved in a number of popular dramas for the BBC and other media. The actual production is being handled by a firm based in Britain and Germany, with actors selected from Hollywood.
The series doesn’t appear closely linked to Japan, but “it’s become so because of our aim to have people around the world watch it,” Ota said.
Fuji’s reasons for increasing its global focus are clear. As Japan’s domestic TV market shrinks due to the public’s reduced interest in watching TV, as well as the nation’s chronically low birthrate and falling population, the industry’s business model of making programs based on ad revenues is at a turning point.
Globally, drama series such as “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” have gained huge popularity one after another. “If we can make drama series that are global hits, it would be very attractive as a business,” Ota said.
The ongoing project started at MIPCOM, an international trade show for TV programs held annually in Cannes, France. At the trade show two years ago, Fuji TV Network Inc. proposed making a drama about transfer windows, and the ZDF side showed strong interest. A series of talks resulted in a coproduction system where Fuji organizes various projects and the ZDF side leads drama production.
Ota said: “No [TV] drama [series] has ever depicted behind-the-scenes stories about soccer — the world’s most popular sport — although it’s sometimes believed otherwise. A project’s significance lies in making something from scratch. That’s why ZDF gives much credit to our project to realize an international coproduction.”
Following the scheduled completion of the drama next year, Fuji intends to cover the production cost by selling the relevant broadcasting and distribution rights across the world.
Streaming services, which have witnessed significant growth, are “both rivals and partners” for Fuji, Ota said. “The [ongoing] coproduction project would not have happened just five years ago.”
The coproduction has become possible partly because of Fuji’s track record developing projects in Asia, he added. It’s an “almost unprecedented project led by Japanese and European TV stations,” Ota said. “We want to make it a success so we can show it to the global market like a business card.”
NHK leads the way
Moves to make dramas with foreign TV stations have been led by NHK, in an attempt to create internationally recognized pieces of work.
In 1989, NHK tied up with BBC and U.S. TV station WGBH to produce the drama series “The Ginger Tree,” a love story between a heroine from Scotland and a Japanese commissioned officer. In 1991, the Japanese corporation broadcast a Japan-German coproduced drama titled “Fuyu no tabi”(Winter Journey).
NHK’s track record also includes showing the Japan-China coproduced drama “Daichi no Ko”(A Son of The Good Earth) in 1995 to mark the public broadcaster’s 70th anniversary.