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CineAsia Hands Out Prizes as Hollywood Mega-Deal Looms

Asia’s scale and importance as the world’s fastest-growing box office region were brought home as the CineAsia convention handed out its annual prizes against the backdrop of an impending Hollywood mega-deal.

India’s Ajay Bijli was named Asian exhibitor of the year and Yusuke Okada, of Japan’s Toei, Asian distributor of the year at the closing event in Hong Kong. Prizes were presented Thursday at an awards lunch at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, adjacent to the Wanchai convention center that since Monday had hosted the conference sessions and a related trade show.

CineAsia organizer Andrew Sunshine told Variety that attendance had grown by 10-15%, reaching record levels. That reflects continuing growth of the theatrical business in Asia, which now accounts for close to 40% of global box office.

Sony’s president of international releasing, Steven O’Dell opened his presentation of the studio’s 2018 releasing slate by announcing that Sony Pictures Entertainment is “putting more emphasis on the titles that have commercial potential in Asia.”

The venue-busting attendance and parade of senior executives from Hollywood distribution and marketing departments underlined something of what is at stake if Disney’s acquisition of some of 21st Century Fox’s assets is announced later Thursday, as is widely expected.

One executive described the impending announcement as “the mouse in the room” throughout the show. And ahead of the usual talk of ticket sales, cinema technology and upcoming titles, the Disney-Fox combination was the dominant subject of corridor conversations.

Several executives played the parlor game of guessing which of their colleagues and competitors would be in different positions at CineAsia next year. Others suggested that at least one of the other six Hollywood majors could also be taken over. “We are going through a cycle of Schumpeterian consolidation,” said Sunder Kimatrai, who was Fox’s senior theatrical releasing figure until earlier this year.

Bijli said that receiving his prize was a special occasion. “It acknowledges our endless efforts to revolutionize the business of cinema-viewing in India,” he said. The company started as a joint venture with Australia’s Village Roadshow, and through a combination of acquisitions and organic growth has become India’s largest multiplex operator, with more than 600 screens. DCI-compliant multiplexes are the mainstay of Hollywood’s growing penetration into India.

Other prize winners included Graham Burke of Village Roadshow, as copyright educator of the year;  Barco as technology innovator of the year; and “Wolf Warriors 2” as Asia Pacific box office achievement award winner. Lotte Entertainment’s Won Chun Cha also received a special award.

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