Racheal Lee
Aug 5, 2013

TV companies need local content, local leadership: Discovery's Keaveny

SINGAPORE - Tom Keaveny, Discovery Asia-Pacific's outgoing president and managing director, shared insights for the medium's future in the region in this exit interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Tom Keaveny
Tom Keaveny

Keaveny has been promoted to the newly-created role of president of international affiliate sales for Discovery Networks International. The London-based position will be effective next month.

In view of the diverse cultural landscape in Asia-Pacific, local-language content is the way forward for broadcast networks, he said. Getting people from outside the corporation to contribute ideas while the network provides production skills has proven to be a successful strategy.

“Make the content relevant to the market, such as the programme ‘Rebuilding Japan’,” he told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “We work with celebrities in programmes in different markets and produce brand content locally.”

For example, First Time Filmmakers (FTFM) is part of an ongoing effort by Discovery Channel to support the documentary industry, provide opportunities for non-fiction filmmakers in the region and showcase local stories.

Each year, in a different country, FTFM conducts an open pitch for local filmmakers to submit their ideas and compete for the opportunity to produce and develop a film, under the guidance of Discovery Channel producers. The film then premieres on the regional Discovery Channel feeds.

This year’s FTFM is in Japan and Discovery is on the lookout for content by local filmmakers that tells the story of ‘Ultimate Japan' and reveals what makes contemporary Japan tick.

An earlier documentary commission from Singapore, Moving House by Tan Pin Pin, focused on the experience of the 55,000 families in Singapore who have been forced to relocate the remains of their relatives from a cemetery to a columbarium. The film won the Student Academy Award for Best Documentary, Best Documentary at the USA-Asean Film Festival and a Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film Festival.

Keaveny noted that local production is also an initiative at Discovery Kids, where Kids Vs Film is one of the first local productions for the channel. In the programme, 48 kids aged 8 to 12 from across Asia were challenged to create their own Discovery-style short films, under the careful guidance of Discovery Channel production crew.

Each of the 12 episodes features two teams of two kids competing against each other to produce and shoot a mini-documentary. Their complete work is then showcased to a team of kids, who decide on the winner of the week.

Keaveny said that not only content but also the management ranks must reflect the region's diversity; a media company such as Discovery should have local people working at the management level, he said.

“We've got good people on the ground," he said. "Local people can understand the market. It is a myth that there is a lack of talent. That is (only) the challenge of mathematics.”

Globally, Discovery is expanding its portfolio and genre reach following the acquisitions of SBS (Nordics), Switchover Media (Italy), Fatafeat (Middle East).

Subscriber numbers, he noted, has increased more than 300 per cent from eight years ago, from 179 million cumulative subscribers to 572 million cumulative subscribers.

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