Rapid globalization and digitalization have brought about a new set of exciting opportunities and challenges for the audiovisual content industry in Asia, Taiwan included. While China, Japan, and Korea have each embarked on its own path to make their own competitive and authentic audiovisual content, Taiwan faces several challenges due to its small market size, limited resources, and other entrenched factors within the industry. In its recent efforts to upgrade and boost the television and filming industry in the country, the Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development of Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture has set up a series of international symposiums under the overall theme of developing the audiovisual content industry, for the public to learn from the experiences of other major Asian countries. The symposiums focus on both the technical side, such as the technological development and application, as well as the business side, the possibility for cross-industrial cooperation. This essay largely draws upon and essentially culminates the lessons learned from the symposiums to reflect on the Taiwanese content development. In other words, it is my goal here to delve into an overview analysis of Taiwan’s own predicament in developing audiovisual contents for the television and film sector for the 21 Century and the overall environment, in order to evaluate possible paths for the future.
The Overall Picture:
Television and film industry plays a vital role in the Taiwanese digital content industry, which in turn contributes greatly to the economy. The Taiwanese demand for digital content is growing, particularly for the sub-field of audiovisual content. According to the 2014 report on the Digital Content Industry in Taiwan, published by Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, the country’s digital content industry annual production value amounts to 858.2 billion NTD. That is a growth of 17.49% compared to 2013. To further dissect this industrial expansion to show the importance of audiovisual content, a look at the data published by the same industry report would reveal that the audiovisual industry grew from 86.1 billion NTD in 2013 to 141 billion NTD in 2014, achieving a growth of 63.76%, and making it the fastest growing digital content sub-field. The major factors that lie behind this impressive increase in values include the increasing accessibility of and the improving speed of wireless internet, digitalization of traditional TELEVISION programs, and convenience provided by smart mobile devices. What we can conclude from these numbers is that the television and film industry in Taiwan is standing at a crossroad, a point where the traditional consumption of audiovisual contents is giving way to a much more digitalized and mobile experience. Although audiovisual contents include more than just television and film products, the potential that TELEVISION and film producers face in the age of internet and smart phones is undeniable.
A Shifting Market:
With digitalization and other Asian country’s TELEVISION and film content on the rise, Taiwanese audience is exhibiting a clear shift in viewing behaviors, and one of the key strategies that the Taiwanese government wishes to take upon is the cross-industrial cooperation between players along the audiovisual value chain. When talking about the audiovisual value chain, there are usual a few varying numbers of links involved, depending on how detailed one wishes to define each level. In this particular analysis, the chain is broken down into 4 links, with “content producers” being at the top of the chain, followed by the “content aggregator,” the “host platform,” and finally “consumer device manufacturer.” The traditional content producers are the ones who produce television and film contents, such as Gin Star Entertainment, Jason’s Entertainment Company, and other production companies. The traditional content aggregators put together the produced programs, and they include everyday cable television networks such as Sanlih Entertainment, Gala Television, Eastern Broadcasting, etc. The host platform is the medium through which the programs are delivered to the audience, including, most prominently, the Chunghwa Telecom MOD, LINE TELEVISION, Coture.com. Finally the consumer devices are the hardware products such as the smart phones in our pocket or the television box we use at home. The idea is that the integration of some of the players among the Taiwanese audiovisual content industry, can perhaps replicate the success of the likes of Amazon Prime Videos, Netflix, or Hulu or maybe push the Taiwanese film and television production onto the global market like the Korean have done with Korean dramas. While these are promising goals, the very environment in which the Taiwanese film and television industry makes a living poses several big challenges.
One of the major challenges that the Taiwanese television and film content industry faces is the difficulty in competing with foreign television series. The Taiwanese television industry is dominated by the traditional cable networks, which are broadcasting more and more foreign shows for profit reasons, making it difficult for the Taiwanese contents to flourish in the market (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2014). This, combined with the limited market and finance options that Taiwanese production companies have when producing a television series, make self-made Taiwanese content extremely difficult. At the same time, recent Chinese dramas see an increase in big-budget productions, which they export more and more, cheaply too. The extremely large-scale and well-received series such as Empresses in the Palace and the new The Journey of the Flower often make them more profitable and popular among Taiwanese cable networks. It is the same Korean drama series, which are immensely popular among Taiwanese youth, and are easier for the networks than having to produce native contents. The dominance of the cable television networks and the difficulty in producing self-made contents are at the root of two other challenges facing the Taiwanese audiovisual content industry as it seeks to revolutionize through cross-industrial cooperation for the 21st century.
Without a steady flow of quality original contents, Taiwanese online streaming websites cannot rival the foreign streaming giants as they begin to enter the Taiwanese market. On a global scale, the growing popularity of streaming websites is changing the game for television companies, as the websites not only aggregate but also create self-made contents tailored to their audience. Although the Taiwanese market is a few steps behind, it is undeniably a growing momentum as well. In recent years there have been efforts by Taiwanese companies to create their own streaming platform in order to capture the attention of younger Taiwanese audience. Most of these streaming websites offer their members mostly foreign contents, without much individuality or marketable uniqueness. However, the fast expanding streaming websites are proving that it is necessary to rely on original contents, such as Netflix’s House of Cards, in order to capture the hearts of the audience. The Taiwanese streaming websites have been rather slow to adopting, which undoubtedly and partially as a result of the difficulty in creating authentically Taiwanese yet internationally marketable content. The few that have embarked on road of original content creation include Coture.com and Fanily, which still focus on small-scale and closer-to-life productions.
The push for digital television over traditional analogue television has also been hindered by the environment that we just described that faces the Taiwanese television and film industry. The Chunghwa MOD digital television has been a leader in the Taiwanese digital television market, appealing to consumers by offering multiple channels and instant access. It would have been a wonderful opportunity for Taiwanese original contents to reach even greater audience, but the established TELEVISION networks make it difficult for the two to cooperate (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2014). With a lack of content, Chunghwa MOD had to turn to live streaming concerts, sports, and game competitions to garner users, though making a niche for itself, but still puts it at a disadvantage compared to devices such as Google Chrome.
There are many opportunities for Taiwanese television and film content producers to gain a greater audience beyond traditional cable network television, by placing their contents on streaming website or digital television. It would then take considerable effort by the industry and government to push for the change, rather than allowing the dominance of cable network television dictate the future of the Taiwanese film and television. Changes need to be made so that Taiwanese native streaming websites and Taiwanese digital television can have easier access to original contents, rather than allowing them to become another video library. Ultimately, the convent industry itself needs to be revitalized and needs much more external support. The fact is that the Taiwanese market alone is not big enough, for films or TELEVISION series to make enough money off box office alone or make commercial sponsorship profitable for the corporate sponsors. In order to create a phenomenon such as the Korean pop culture or the fast-generating Chinese dramas, the government has to take up a more engaging role in funding and helping the Taiwanese film and television industry to map out a future course of development.
“2014 Digital Content Industry in Taiwan”. 2014. Ministry of Economic Affairs. < http://www.dcipo.org.tw/upload/publish/2014/2014Industry.pdf>