If it goes ahead, the Mandarin-language "Road Trip USA" would pit four Chinese teams-from the U.S., Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan-against each other in a car trip from Boston to Miami, hitting American cultural and historical icons. Along the way, the teams must dance with the Rockettes in New York, make chocolate in Hershey, Pa., milk cows in Amish country and fulfill an alligator challenge in Florida's Everglades. The three-person team with the most points wins the yet-to-be-determined prize.
"Except for local news and a talk show, almost everything [we air] is produced in Hong Kong, China or Taiwan," said Michael Sherman, general manager of Asian-language channel KTSF in San Francisco. "This would be in-language, but from an American perspective, and appeal to the changing demographics of younger Asians."
Mr. Sherman estimated production costs at $400,000 to $500,000 for 12 programs. "The goal is to cover most or all of the production cost with sponsors, and the stations would get the airtime to sell," he said. The show could be shot at the end of this year to air in the second or third quarter of 2004 on KTSF and other Mandarin-language channels including the cable-delivered International Channel, he said.
So far there are no sponsors.
Agency executives applaud the idea of American-made programming for the Asian-American market, but raise concerns about the small pool of potential advertisers, likely viewership and production quality. The production company, House Films, has done mainly low-budget commercials, agency executives said.
According to a recent survey by the Association of National Advertisers of its members, 70% of respondents said they use targeted media to reach Hispanics and 59% for African-Americans, but just 27% of those surveyed said they tap into the Asian-American market.
"So much is rebroadcast from Asia that anything created for the market here will have impact," said Saul Gitlin, executive VP-strategic services at WPP Group's Kang & Lee, New York. "My only concern is budgets are so limited."
Telecommunications, financial services, cars and some government departments are among the few categories that regularly target Asian-Americans.
"It's a very interesting idea," said Jeannie Yuen, president of A Partnership, New York. "TV in the Asian market is not as dominant as print, so you wouldn't get the following [for a reality show] that you get in the general market. And we'd have to look at the quality of the programming."
In the Hispanic market, Telemundo's successful "Protagonistas de Novela," in which a group of young people vie to win a soap-opera role, is already spawning other Spanish-language reality shows. In the second series of "Protagonistas" airing now, sponsorship dollars were attracted from Miller Brewing Co., Ford Motor Co., Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Americatel.
The Asian-American market is much smaller, although Ric Dilanni, president and executive producer of House Films, said he hopes "Road Trip USA" will also air in Asia, perhaps on China's main network, CCTV.
China's own first reality game show is airing there through the end of June as five couples compete in "The Wedding Race" for a new house through extreme sports such as swimming with sharks, bungee jumping and hang-gliding. To satisfy the show's two sponsors, contestants guzzle Coca-Cola after grueling competitions and chat and exchange photos using their Siemens mobile phone.
"The Wedding Race" producer Deansee Entertainment is already creating a second season. Jasper Donat, executive director of Branded, a Hong Kong marketing company that coordinated the sponsorship, said he's looking for a way to make "The Wedding Race" an Asia-wide program, with couples from Thailand, Malaysia and other countries competing against each other. And Deansee is also thinking about a version for the U.S. general market, with American couples taking part, he said.