Top executives from Asian media companies including CJ ENM, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, BEC World and Bona Film Group discussed Asia’s changing media landscape on the first day of Hong Kong’s Filmart.
While most of the talk was of booming OTT content production and formats travelling around the region, China still seems to be finding its way back to international markets and collaboration after three years of relative isolation.
In the first session of the market, Sebastian Kim, head of sales and acquisitions for Korea’s CJ ENM, said the range of Korean content that can travel is expanding beyond the core genre of romantic drama to action, sci-fi, thrillers and reality TV. “We were surprised by the success of reality, because unscripted shows are usually only targeted at the Korean audience, but we’re now planning to make more for international markets,” said Kim.
Zee’s Asia Pacific head Sanmesh Thakur said Indian audiences have become more adventurous, thanks to the rise of streaming, which is encouraging local creators to try new forms of storytelling. “What we’re finding on OTT is that the Gen Z audience wants something fast-paced and edgy. There are only a finite number of stories, so it’s the way you tell the story that needs to change.” He added that some of this new content is also travelling overseas.
Similarly, Ziraviss Vindhanapisuth, international business chief at Thailand’s BEC World, said a wider range of Thai genres, including horror and BL (a.k.a. Boy’s Love, romantic drama featuring same-sex relationships), are reaching new markets internationally. “BL has a hard time passing censorship for free-to-air channels in most markets, but we’re finding an audience on OTT.”
But while the streaming boom is enabling content to travel in its original language, all three speakers said the big trend is still for local-language adaptations, particularly of U.S., UK, Turkish and Korean formats. Co-production remains difficult, as mixing cast and languages from different countries usually means the content doesn’t land with either audience.
“We’ve been looking for this formula for decades but have found the best formula for coproduction is adaptations,” said Kim. “Korean cast are for Korean audiences and Thai cast are for Thai audiences. We haven’t seen any great successes with mixing cast within Asia.”
Later in the day, Bona Film Group COO Jiang Defu explained that China’s box office is still tracking way down on pre-pandemic levels. Last year, just 41 films made more than RMB100M ($14.5M) at the box office, the break-even figure for most Chinese movies, compared to more than 100 crossing that benchmark before the pandemic.
He said the industry needs to “look at ways to innovate and create, and also improve our marketing efforts and ancillary industries around the movie industry. He was also candid about the fact that Chinese filmmakers need to “work within the core values of Chinese culture and propaganda”.
Hou Hongliang, president of Chinese TV producer Daylight Entertainment, said Chinese TV content is starting to become more popular in international markets. “Korean companies have acquired our IPs and we’ve had some good results on overseas platforms.”
But he also acknowledged that the biggest overseas markets for Chinese content are still Chinese-speaking countries in Southeast Asia. “We need to expand further. Korean content has been able to grow because it has global support, so that’s something we need to learn from and improve.”
He also said that Chinese producers still want to work with Hollywood and that some had visited the U.S. to learn and exchange ideas, “but it’s not easy as we have different cultures and language barriers”.
Filmart is taking place until March 16 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Panel sessions over the next few days include Asian reality television, Chinese animation and applications of Web3 in the entertainment industry.