BUSAN: Roadblocks Abound in Unifying Southeast Asia

Censorship, religion, politics and piracy – as well as Asia’s fundamentally diversified culture – are among the many obstacles to creating a unified southeast Asian film industry or giving Asian independents a bigger voice, a Busan panel heard.

Discussion at the Asian Policy Forum’s Tuesday session on film distribution was dominated by analysis of Internet trends and patterns of online movie consumption.

Woo Seonhyun, chief manager of Naver Corp., explained how the Korean portal and search engine has created a highly visible platform for independent movies that link off a home page which receives visits from 20 million users per day.

The Naver model is radically different from platforms in other countries. While Naver provides the bandwidth and enjoys the traffic, programming is essentially divested to the trade associations that represent indie filmmakers.

Woo said that, unlike Netflix or the major Chinese portals in evidence at Busan, Naver has no intention of expanding into content production as it wants to remain neutral.

However, he did reveal the Line, the Naver-owned messaging service which is the dominant IM format in Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia, but is largely absent in Korea, in now producing web content with popular Korean stars in a drive to expand into the China market.

Teng Lee Yein, VP of regional acquisition and distribution at Malaysian pay-TV group Astro, said that audiences can be incited by platforms to experiment and try watching non-mainstream content, but platforms need to first establish a position of trust. “Attention spans and patience increase in line with screen size. Audiences watching on a mobile need to be grabbed within the first two minutes,” she said.

Teng explained how Astro has worked with sections of the Malaysian production industry through its Astro First program to move some local films online within two weeks of theatrical release. Some films are simulcast on VoD while still in theaters, expanding reach of those movies and cutting costs for family groups. She conceded, however, that theatrical admissions for Malaysian films have fallen in the period Astro First has been in operation. “We will have to wait and see,” she said.

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