How an independent Aussie production company made it in Asia

ActiveTV’s Michael McKay on regional commissions in Asia

In September 1988, Sydney television producer Michael McKay started a small independent production company called activeTV.

ActiveTV is best known locally for putting on the Carols In The Park event, which is broadcast on Seven. Outside of Carols, however, the company is best-known for its success in Asia.

In 2006, activeTV Asia was established in Singapore off the back of the company’s first production of The Amazing Race Asia for AXN.

The company is now headquartered in Singapore with a strong production base in Manila, as well as the foundation business in Melbourne.

“When we first came into Singapore in 2006 no one had really done reality TV so we quickly trained up a lot of people and a great many have progressed in the industry today because of that training,” McKay told Mediaweek’s Peter Olszewski in an interview this year.

“We did the same thing up in Manila. We also take on interns, we try to train and develop people and if I was proudest of anything it would be that.”

However, McKay’s strategy for success in Asia involved looking beyond just production.

“We wanted to be not just a production company,” said McKay this week. “I was worried production companies were a dying breed – the margins are always getting crunched and getting tougher and tougher.

“At the centre of our business now we have content we own, or that we at least have a partnership in.

“We then ask if we can make money off the production and then can we make money from the distribution and sell sponsorship too. We look at every possible revenue stream, from events to government funding.”

ActiveTV has recently been commissioned to make three stand-up comedy specials, although McKay was not able to give any more detail on that project yet.

“We created a series called Celebrity Car Wars, which is coming up to its third season. It is family entertainment where we take six celebrities and three motor racing drivers who teach the celebrities how to really drive a car via some crazy challenges.”

McKay said he uses his experience from years of making The Amazing Race on the challenges. ActiveTV worked on that format in Asia, Australia and Israel.

With three seasons for Celebrity Car Wars on Asia’s History Network, McKay said interest in the format is growing from international markets outside Asia. “People have realised this is much more than a car show for blokes.”

Other programs on the slate include Food Files for National Geographic internationally, which examines what is really in the food people are eating. “We have fun with that too. Our style when we make informative programs is to have fun.”

ActiveTV more recently did the Asian TV Awards, which were broadcast in Singapore on Friday December 1.

“We have just started to produce content in 4K. The biggest issue for us is that it eats up much storage space on our server.

“We have our own post-production facility in Singapore where we run eight edit suites and we add to that out of Australia if we need more.”

Photo: Michael McKay on location in the Philippines during Celebrity Car Wars

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