Based on a novel by Liu Ping titled The Lunatic, the series tells a story about love, intrigue and betrayal surrounding two men who appear to be as close as brothers. The show's hero has to rebuild his life after he is betrayed by his friend and business colleague.
The project was developed by Sony Pictures Television International, the division of Sony Corp. responsible for all TV business outside of the U.S., and its joint venture partner, China Film Group.
The 24-episode one-hour show, called The Game, premiered on CCTV8, the broadcaster's national channel devoted to TV series, during prime-time Sept. 22. The company plans to distribute the show outside China.
"The message of being energetic, positive and happy was portrayed in the scenes where we featured Ford cars," said Mary Chan, VP-production, Asia at Sony Pictures Television in Hong Kong.
"We tried to create scenes that talk about the cars, and the characters in the show are in line with the consumer profiles Ford gave us. The car and characters blended very well."
Sony is also using the series to promote three of its own products -- handheld cameras, Sony Bio laptop computers and Bravia TV sets -- but no other marketers are involved in the show.
Good deal for Ford
MindShare, one of Ford's media agencies in China, the world's second-largest car market, orchestrated the U.S. car company's sponsorship.
"The opportunity to sponsor the show was brought to us by Sony with a good amount of time before production started, so we had a lot of time to look at ways to incorporate Ford cars into the show," said Mateo Eaton, managing director of MindShare's performance and entertainment division in Shanghai.
The male and female leads drive different models of each car in various colors. In one scene, the main character receives a Ford car as a gift from a business partner. And the tagline for the company's advertising in China, "Ford brings excitement," was incorporated into the show's theme song.
Sponsoring the series was "a good deal" for Ford. The Game is the first TV drama series produced by Sony's joint venture in China, called Huaso Film/Television Digital Production Co., although Huaso has produced made-for-TV films for CCTV.
"Sony wanted to test the waters for branded content in China," Mr. Eaton said. "We got in for a good price, but it was a very smooth process. Sony has a great brand name and track record and a lot of media and entertainment products they can tap into, which releases some of the burden on sponsors." The Focus compact and S-Max crossover vehicles are produced in China by Chang'an Ford Automobile Co., Ford's joint venture with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co.
But Ford was a latecomer to the mainland and sales remain far below the company's U.S. rival General Motors and Germany's Volkswagen Group, China's top two car makers. In the first half of this year, Ford's passenger car sales rose 25% to 116,903 units, but GM and VW also saw strong sales growth.
Sony expands ties between China and Hollywood
The Game was written by Ren Yun, but the production involved a rare collaboration with script consultants from Hollywood and China. Mr. Ren worked Li Xiao Ming, a Chinese author who has penned books such as The Mending of the Sky and Other Chinese Myths, as well as Gerald Sanoff, a writer on American TV series such as Matlock and Diagnosis Murder.
By combining "top-notch talent from the East and West," the joint venture tried to create a series with new elements of story-telling for the Chinese audience, Ms Chan said.
Hollywood has shown increasing interest in China, even though the mainland's film market generates minimal revenues for U.S. studios. Ticket prices remain very low compared to developed markets and China strictly limits the number of foreign releases that can play in local theaters. Most Chinese watch foreign films on pirated DVDs that sell for less than $1.
During late summer, film industry executives from companies such as the Motion Picture Association of America and talent agency William Morris met with several dozen budding Chinese filmmakers at a private seminar organized by the University of California, Los Angeles.
Delegates were selected by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the visit to the U.S. was arranged by Sony's partner, the China Film Group. One of the sessions was led by Gareth Wigan, a former vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
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