LGBTQ Themes Abound Among Taiwan Companies’ ATF Pitches in Singapore

Companies from Taiwan will be out in force at next week’s Asian Television Forum in Singapore.

Prominent among them is Portico Media, a company involved in production, sales and distribution of LGBTQ content. It also operates the similarly-themed GagaOOLala streaming platform, which carries a mix of acquired content, its own originals and shows co-produced with partners in Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, the U.S., and Germany.

Unlike other parts of Asia, Taiwan’s queer community does not have to remain in the closet for fear of legal sanctions. And the democratically-run island is the only place in the region that permits same sex marriage.

The company’s “Fragrance of the First Flower” premiered as part of the Tokyo International Film Festival’s series showcase and played at the recent Taiwan Content Creative Fest. Now it is part of Portico’s pitch at next week’s ATF.

There is a growing demand in Asia for so-called boys’ love (BL) stories, soft-core gay-themed content that appeals to both sexes and is reputed to strike a particular chord with middle-aged professional women, often referred to as office ladies (OLs).

While gay cinema is reported to have struggled to find theatrical audiences in recent years, website, Mydramalist says that in the six years from 2015 to 2021, the number of LGBTQ and BL series it tracks has increased from 71 to 257.

GagaOOLala’s first year of operation also points to the market having shifted online. “The U.S. is currently our leading market for subscribers, with a continuously upward trend. The list is followed unsurprisingly by Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore,” a company representative told Variety.

“Our geographical demographics have shifted to address the growing demand for Asian LGBTQ + BL content in and outside of Asia, as we pivot to become a streaming service that Asian content providers partner with for simultaneous global premieres.” The company is working with Thailand’s local public TV channel MCOT to carry several of its BL series outside the country. As of October 2021, GagaOOLala claimed some 700,000 monthly active users (MAUs), 8 million monthly page views, and over 900,000 app downloads.

The commercial viability of Portico’s LGBTQ content was underlined ahead of ATF, by “Fragrance” reported to be moving to a second season and three of its shows “Light,” “Innocence” and “The Immeasurable” reportedly licensed to distributors in Japan. Its “Papa & Daddy” show, which previously won the ContentAsia “Asia Content Award,” has been licensed to Tencent’s WeTV operations outside mainland China, for streaming in Thailand, Central and South America.

Flash Forward Entertainment will be using the ATF to pitch its feature film “Moneyboys,” which premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Directed by Chinese-Austrian filmmaker C.B. Yi, “Moneyboys” depicts the culture clash between China’s urban metropolises and rural villages as seen through the eyes of a young hustler named Fei. He finds works in the city as a sex worker. But he is devastated when he realizes that his family accepts his money, but not his homosexuality.

Other Taiwan companies pitching at the ATF include government-backed Screenworks Asia (selling Catchplay series “The Making of an Ordinary Woman”) and Enjoy TV & Film Broadcasting Corporation (selling Malaysia-Taiwan co-production “Alone”).

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