FUTURE VISION: FUJI TV'S TAKA HAYAKAWA ON ASIA'S GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION

Taka cropped headshot for oct14futurevision

Born on the cusp of the digital revolution, Fuji TV vice president Taka Hayakawa is among a new breed of top Asian executives working a global brief that would have been undreamed of a few decades ago. In this Future Vision, Hayakawa talks up global drama strategy, working with China and Korea and the influence of the digital mind on the future of entertainment.

Q. You’ve done business on every major continent, you hold academic degrees from Japan, Singapore and the US, and aside from Japanese, you speak several other languages comfortably. Your global background is pretty much a sign of future times, isn’t it?

 A. When I started my career in 1994 we only thought of making shows for domestic audiences. Now, every day we get contacted by big Chinese investors or Korean producers saying, "Let's make a show together for Amazon Prime or Netflix." Two decades ago, I could never have imagined this kind of cooperation between East Asian countries and US platforms. In 2022, 43% of global SVOD subscribers are forecast to be in Asia so I think without a doubt we are at the beginning of a golden age of storytelling for East Asia. And in this golden age, the kind of global perspective I have and that Fuji TV has is critical to survival.

Q. You co-produced some 150 documentaries at NHK, and then at Fuji, you teamed with Ridley Scott to co-produce Japan In A Day. You have a massive track record for producing dramas, with the latest being the first-ever European Japanese scripted co-production––a soccer drama with ZDFE titled The Window. How did this project come about? 

A. The co-production with ZDFE started at a dinner I attended at MIPCOM in 2016 with some ZDFE producers. We decided we wanted to do something together, a drama for football fans, and have spent the last three years developing it. It's the biggest budget drama series Fuji TV has ever been involved in, and it includes a mainly British cast but also one Japanese actress and one Korean actor. Theme-wise, let’s call it House of Cards meets the world of soccer. 

Q. What stage is this project at right now and when can we expect to see it launched?

A. We start shooting October 21 in Liverpool and expect to finish the first four episodes by the end of the year. We’ll finalise post on all 10 episodes by April. At MIPCOM on October 14, we’ll be unveiling much more about talent in front of and behind the camera—so stay tuned. 

Q. You previously launched a venture capital firm in Singapore before coming over to Fuji so you’re no new kid on the block when it comes to financing. What’s the focus of your investment strategy. 

A. It’s actually pretty straightforward. We are looking to create added value through hands-on investment. Our aim is to  focus on the seeds of creativity so very early stage investment is our primary goal. 

Q. It’s clear that streamers are possibly the biggest drivers for growth in the area of drama but increasingly players like Netflix are upping their game when it comes to documentaries. Do you anticipate a future in which Fuji is financing docs and working more with streamers to co-produce those docs? 

A. The success of “Terrace House" has been incredible. This is a reality show produced by Fuji TV and distributed by Netflix that was chosen as one of the top 10 shows of 2018 by Time magazine. So, it has essentially become a global sensation and now executives from the Chinese platforms tell us, "You've created a strategic alliance with Netflix and produced a lot of shows for them.  Let's do the same thing for the Chinese market." The relevant point is that we have a workable strategy, resources, experience as showrunners and valuable contacts world-wide. Our hope and our vision is to be able to create shows that will work for Netflix, Amazon and then as well, shows for Alibaba, Tencent and more.  That is the way we survive in the 21st century as a small country and it is a strategy that could well be applied not only to drama and documentaries but also other genres. 

Q. I want to take a look at the digital versus linear mind and how that is affecting the future of media. You are from a new generation of Asian players, completely au fait with multiple screens from a young age. What challenges and opportunities are you seeing on the horizon that weren’t even imagined several decades ago?

A. With the development of digital technology, drama has gained unprecedented audiences. Creators throughout the world are in heavy competition to produce new dramas while at the same time there is a growing tendency for production companies to work with big budgets. Having passionately worked in the TV industry for more than 25 years, I’m watching in awe as I truly believe that an incredible new era has opened its doors. 

Q. How does this impact your vision for the future? 

A. So I ask myself in what way could I as a Japanese player contribute to this rapidly shifting world? A research company reported recently that more than 10,000 drama series were released worldwide every single year. The fundamental question for us is how we can create new stories that will be noticed, connect with our audience, move them emotionally, and give them joy among these 10,000 works. 

Q. And how is that working so far?

A. I have told producers in Tokyo this year that we may not be Gucci or Chanel on a fancy major street but we will be a shop in Tokyo’s Ura –Harajuku. The shops in this district go beyond borders and cultures to inspire people all over the world and I see a  part of Fuji Television’s DNA there. 

Q. With Pokomon Go such a big success, you must have plans for the video side of Fuji TV? For bite size TV? What’s on the front burner at Fuji right now? What’s priority No.1? 

A. In the spring of 2016, I invested in a newly-founded augmented reality (AR) start-up company in San Francisco through a Series-A investment. Six months later, this company called Niantic released the mobile game Pokémon GO, which became a mega-hit that broke five Guinness World Records. My company’s market cap went up almost 1 billion USD capital through this investment. The technical background that made Pokémon GO into a worldwide sensation is the integration of location-based technology, artiicial intelligence (AI) and AR. In just three years, we successfully built the world’s only global-scale AR platform. 

Q. So what’s next? 

A. My next goal is to multiply these technologies with new digital media. Imagine this: What if during a trip overseas, we can see a display with translations of the history and culture of a destination, a territory? What if our ability to see the social problems of local communities could help deepen our thoughts on how to tackle those issues in our own communities? What is great about AR is the fact that it gives us the means to amplify our understanding of the world and possibly, the means to help explore and expand democratic ideals across the planet.