2017 marked the launch of original programming for iflix, a slate comprising local scripted drama, raw stand-up comedy, plus a pan-regional alternative news and culture series. It’s a slate that comprised many firsts for Asian entertainment.
The first time an Indonesian drama series (Magic Hour) was filmed in New York and elevated production values to the level of local cinema – as opposed to the ubiquitous TV soaps- tackling themes such as teenage pregnancy and infidelity for a “home-viewing” audience; and the first time stand-up comedy gave emerging local comics the platform to perform their sets, entirely uncensored.
Soon to come are KL Gangster: Underworld, a Malaysian action-crime series that pulls no punches in creating edgy, authentic storytelling that again, has more in common with the cinema than terrestrial TV drama.
Then there’s Exit 49 our first feature film which marks a return to the horror genre for the Philippines’ Queen of Scream, Kris Aquino. But beyond the typical scare fest, it also has a feminist subtext – reflecting on the true horrors of domestic violence against women.
Although varied, these hyperlocal Originals do share a unifying tactic: they’re inspired by what (or who) has been delivering success in the mainstream or enjoying disproportionate engagement outside that mainstream but then, critically, executed in a bold, and differentiated way on iflix. To achieve this often means elevating quality or pushing censorship, but it always means focusing on the creative process and challenging status quo.
This requires delicate calibration – stray too far from the familiar, and even the best shows will require much word of mouth and time to gain traction with viewers. But regurgitate what came before and they get drowned out by the (ahem) “sausage factory” that is the mainstream.
I refer to this as the “Same same, but different” philosophy – in itself words I borrowed from a Bangkok t-shirt!
Though we’ve been accused of being derivative (can’t you be truly Original?!), it’s actually a deliberate “phase 1” move in order to drive impact and get our Originals noticed in a crowded content space.
And it’s working.
Magic Hour broke every metric on iflix, performing as well as The Flash, and top Korean drama Goblin, with a binge index even higher than those global mega hits. In fact, virtually every iflix Original has thus far been a Top 5 TV title during its week of release. Phew.
The next chapter in the iflix Originals story will present new challenges, one of scaling that success in markets where the talent pool is still shallow, and whilst no commissioner can guarantee a hit every time, I can guarantee that no strategy will work ad infinitum.
To stay ahead of the curve, we will continue to relish unpredictability and take (calculated) risks, for this game is one-part witchcraft, one-part chemistry.
Now on to Chapter Two…
– Mark Francis, Global Director of Original Programming