Larry Namer: “Relationships are Everything in China”

The production and distribution company is adapting its structure and projects to the Chinese market. This means creating specific content for that market, respecting its rules and understanding that in China “relationships are everything”.

Two and a half years ago Metan Development Group officially began its business in China. After a year and a half of studying the Chinese market and its opportunities, the company started building the link between Los Angeles and Beijing. “Entering any new market is complex and there is a learning curve. I would say that today we are much further along in understanding not just the rules and regulations in this market, but also the audience’s tastes and habits. We have five TV shows that are in various stages, lots of internet and mobile content deals and even our first theatrical film,” says Larry Namer, president of the group.

The company’s successful case study is called Hello! Hollywood, an entertainment show that explores the passion Chinese audience has toward American celebrities. Currently, the program is on 40 TV stations reaching over 600 million potential viewers in China. “We also air the show on six stations in the US. It now goes out over a big internet portal named Tencent reaching almost 3 million people weekly online,” Namer says. Other Metan projects include an in-house developed sitcom that “is now casting and starts shooting next month,” a cooking competition show and the adaptation of a US format drama series. “That is followed by a daily talk show about health and wellness. On the net, we have content ranging from webisodes to action sports clips, to live coverage of global fashion shows,” Namer adds.

The Chinese market is huge and rich but it demands respect when allowing foreigners into it. This means adapting your content to the local rules and regulations and submitting your ideas to the control of governmental institutions like the SARFT (the local Administration of Radio, Film and Television). “We think that a lot of Western companies have had a hard time in China because they try to take what they do in other places and force that upon the Chinese market. It doesn’t work. China is a big enough market that if you don’t want to create something specific for the market, you are in the wrong place,” Namer says.

As for the market’s regulations, the executive believes that “there are rules and regulations everywhere” in the same way that social customs and other factors vary from market to market. “I have not done business with any country where there weren’t rules. If a Western company wants to be in China they have to learn the rules and obey them. It’s no different than doing business in Brazil. You can’t go into another country and expect them to change their rules to suit you. If you don’t like them, don’t enter the market. Another mistake I see all the time is companies trying to manage their China business from afar. It doesn’t work,” he adds.

Bearing this in mind, the company has been looking for successful formats -like telenovela formats- to adapt in China but the process hasn’t been easy. “In China, greed, sex and crime are things that can’t be overly apparent in the focus of the story. So it’s hard to find Latin American formats or even US formats that will have audience appeal and stay within the boundaries of what is OK for TV in China. More and more we are looking at creating things that are made for the market rather than trying to take things made for other places and trying to force them to fit,” Namer explains.

An important step in Metan’s strategy was the recent creation of Metan International Talent Management (MITM), a new division that is now giving its first steps. “As China becomes a bigger and bigger part of the financial equation for global media projects, the need for people who understand China becomes more relevant. For example, writers who understand the Chinese audience will become more valuable. We want to be on the front end of that wave,” the executive assures.

It is often said that the general rule of thumb when working in Asia is that even though building relationships is no quick task they do tend to last a very long time once formed. How true is this? “That’s absolutely true. More than anywhere else, relationships are everything here,” Namer concludes.