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Local animators' soccer series gets an airing everywhere but home

Although Hong Kong's soccer team didn't make it to South Africa, a group of animators has added a local flavour to an official World Cup production being aired in 50 countries - but it won't be seen in Hong Kong.

This lack of airtime for independent producers prompted a call for a public channel to screen local talent.

Local animation firm Jidou Studios co-produced the official mascot's 20-episode series, Zakumi, which has not been picked up by local broadcasters.

'It's hard for an [independent show] to get onto a major network,' Alexander Wong, director and chief executive of Jidou Studios, said.

The series follows mascot Zakumi and his friends, Des and Sonny, as they chase their dream of competing in the National Junior Cup in Johannesburg. It cost US$4.5 million to produce. The project began in October 2008, when negotiations with Fifa began for the mascot licensing rights.

Production of the series began almost a year later and finished in April.

Jidou was responsible for developing the animation in Hong Kong in co-ordination with seven mainland companies. The script was written by Xeopex in France, dubbing was done by Malaysia's Creative Fuzion Entertainment and Peppermint Productions in Germany and Malaysia handled distribution.

The series is being aired in Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Croatia, Nigeria, and many countries in Africa, eastern Europe, the Middle East and all Arabic-speaking nations. Wong said negotiations were ongoing with other countries.

Unlike the television industries in many Western countries, where networks often acquire independently produced shows to run alongside in-house programmes, most of the shows aired on local channels are produced in-house, leaving little room for other productions.

'It's very important to secure a network first before going into production,' Wong said. 'It's very tough to create something on your own and then find your way onto the TV screen.'

Cheuk Pak-tong, head of Baptist University's film academy, said there was virtually no chance for independent producers in Hong Kong to showcase their creative talent. Cheuk said most of the programming shown in the city was monopolised by the networks' own productions.

'This society needs a platform that does not belong to any commercial organisations and is open to the public, in order to showcase and promote the city's creative talents,' Cheuk said. 'Many places have government-funded TV channels, and Hong Kong needs one, too.'

Peter Lam Yuk-wah, vice-president of the Televisioners Association, said although stations outsourced productions, they tended to give them to firms they were familiar with.

Lam said RTHK also commissioned a limited number of productions. He said the industry would have to change in line with countries such as Britain and the United States - where networks buy shows from independent firms - if local independent producers were to survive.

TVB admitted that the majority of its shows were produced in-house. A spokesman for the broadcaster said its English-language channel, Pearl, tended to buy programmes, but most were overseas productions. The spokesman said TVB did not rule out buying independent productions, but its own shows were the priority.

ATV said it had been buying more productions - mostly infotainment shows and dramas from South Korea, Japan and the mainland.