Canadian motorcycle adventure series seeks airtime in US
Updated: 2013-06-21 12:43
By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)
Brothers Colin (left) and Ryan Pyle rode a record 17,674 kilometers around China and filmed their 65-day adventure and wrote a book about it, Middle Kingdom Ride. Provided to China Daily
Two Canadian brothers took off 65 days in 2010 to ride a record 17,674 kilometers around China on motorcycles for the sake of adventure. Now, they have a self-published book and self-published television show, Middle Kingdom Ride, to show for it.
Although Ryan and Colin Pyle, 34 and 31 years old, faced endless setbacks, such as riding off a cliff into a tree, burning out a motorcycle clutch that left the brothers stranded for a week and traveling through muddy rainstorms without proper gear, one of the greatest challenges of the adventure has been selling the TV series in the United States.
"A lot of Americans, we're finding, have a little bit of interest in China, but they're still looking for a kind of introduction to China," said Ryan Pyle. "Our adventure is not really an entry-level China kind of story."
The six-episode Middle Kingdom Ride series debuted in April this year on Travel Channel International, which broadcasts the show in Europe and Asia. The Pyle brothers also spent 54 days journeying by motorcycle through India, and they plan to launch their India Ride book and television series in November.
Meanwhile, the US television market has proven to be "a tough nut to crack".
"Roughly 85 percent of all television shown in the US is about the US," said Ryan Pyle, who has lived in China since 2002. "Given our adventure motorcycle series is based in China already means that we have an uphill climb on our hands."
The independent television producer, who runs G219 Productions company out of his home base in Shanghai, will be in Los Angeles next week to meet with members of the US television industry, particularly with satellite broadcasting companies, and conduct book signings at local bookstores.
Ryan Pyle said breaking onto the US scene is important because it is the world's largest and most lucrative television market and an essential one for accessing a large English-speaking audience.
"We never believed it would be so difficult to sell our series," Ryan said. "Unless you're a celebrity, which I'm clearly not and my brother's clearly not, then the draw or pulling power is very, very difficult."
Amid all the marketing and promoting, Ryan is not waiting by the phone. Instead, he will embark, on foot and without his brother Colin into the Himalayas in July to film Sacred Mountains. The adventurer has traveled to this region frequently for freelance photography work.
"I want to see if we can actually film the kind of physical and mental endurance you need to travel in these parts of the world," Ryan said. "I also want to reconnect with nature and local communities and the alpine life that exists in these more remote parts of China, and see if there's a market for that."
Ryan said he enjoys situations where people are forced outside their comfort zones. He seeks material that allows for a presenter to experience real emotional change or personal growth.
Colin, who sold his business in Toronto prior to the trip and now conducts business in London, said he knew very little about China. After going into the Middle Kingdom ride, and his view of China changed drastically over the course of the journey.
"Our version of storytelling was essentially to compare our experiences of riding a motorcycle around China given our vastly different backgrounds and experiences in the country," Ryan said.
In the next five years, Ryan said he wants to make five to six more adventure television shows, at least three to four of these will involve China. His hope is one of the major broadcasters will sign on and begin supporting these productions and offering a regular platform for his television shows.
"As an independent television producer, you have to create, produce, publish and market all on your own, and it is a full-time job," Ryan said. "It would be nice to have a branded partner bringing some support to what I am trying to build."
Ryan said the digital world, including outlets such as Amazon.com and iTunes, does add to and enhance independent television and filmmakers' opportunities for success. "In many ways it's a buyer's market because there are a lot of people producing a lot of content; but I'm a firm believer that the content is the king," he said.
Ryan said it's not about the money, but instead about sharing his creative process with others. Among all the projects and work he is juggling, Ryan said they are in the process of translating the Middle Kingdom Ride book into Chinese with the goal of sharing their adventure with a wider audience in China.
"At this stage in my career, I'm going to continue making television about China," Ryan said. "I'll just continue knocking on people's doors and continue getting people aware of what the country's really about."
(China Daily USA 06/21/2013 page11)