SHANGHAI — Shanghai Television Festival, which celebrates its 13th edition, kicked off Monday with a renewed sense of purpose.
Separated this year from its higher-profile film festival cousin, which starts this weekend, STVF promised a bigger TV mart and a greater overseas presence than in previous years.
Doubts remain, however, about its ability to attract enough delegates without the boost of spill-over traffic from the film festival.
Industry-focused panel discussions continue to be a major feature of the five-day festival.
Tuesday’s big debate was about the role of the media in China’s upcoming showcase events, the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Shanghai’s World Expo 2010.
Panelists, including reps from previous expos and Olympics, concluded that the Internet will play an ever greater role in covering events of this scale, where live TV feeds are not always possible.
Wednesday’s panels were largely technology focused, with particular attention paid to IPTV and China’s digital broadcast standards. With most of the issues highly localized, audiences for these discussions were almost exclusively Chinese.
The same was not true of the TV market (running Tuesday through Thursday), which this year features more vendors than ever, around 40% of them from overseas.
The European presence was once again strong with major players including Granada Intl., German Films, Deutsche Welle and the Italian Trade Council occupying a large bank of stalls in the EU Pavilion.
There was also a large presence from Korean and Taiwanese broadcasters and production companies. Local players including regional TV stations, national broadcaster China Central Television and a host of animation companies made up the numbers.
By day two of the mart, reports of sales were mixed. The EU Pavilion was relatively busy, with Deustche Welle in particular reporting brisk business.
Stefan Bliemsrieder, distrib exec with DW TV, reported that they had sold out all 150 hours of new programming by the end of the first day, at prices ranging from $500 an hour to regional broadcasters to around $1,500 for national distrib rights.
“We make half of our sales to people who just walk in to our stall that we haven’t met before,” he said. “The other half go to companies we have built relationships with over the years of coming here.”
Indian broadcaster Zee TV reported less walk-in traffic, but this is only its second year at STVF and Indian programming is a harder sell in China.
“We made a couple of sales last year, all family dramas,” said rep Tina Cai. “We expect three or four this year. We are talking with Shanghai Media Group about holding an Indian Week in Shanghai, which will definitely help.”
For local broadcasters, the mart is as much a marketing event as it is about sales.
“For Chinese companies, this is a chance for us to get together and meet old friends. We all know each other already,” said Asian Union’s promotions rep Liu Xue. “We still make sales though. We bring three or four new TV series with us each time and last year we made 20 million yuan ($2.6 million) in contracts from just one of them.
“It’s harder selling to overseas companies here. Most of them want kung-fu stories, or Chinese history documentaries.”
Gao Rui, distrib director for Beijing Galloping Horse production company, confirmed the difficulty of making sales to foreign firms at the Shanghai event. “Most of the overseas companies here are in their own stalls, trying to sell. There are very few foreign buyers walking around.”
Her opinion is supported by Tracey Li of Inlookchina.com, a large production and distribution company that has a dozen drama series on offer in one of the biggest and emptiest stalls at the event.
“I don’t think it is as good as last year. There are definitely fewer international buyers here and that is our market,” she said.
The Shanghai Media Group stall, on the other hand, is packed. Its steady stream of minor TV celebrity visitors and a live broadcast from a glass-walled studio in the middle of the mart hall certainly seem to help.
The one universal complaint?
“It’s just too loud,” Bliemsrieder said laughing. “A lot of the stalls play music through their loudspeakers. On day one it was just unbearable. They’ve turned it down now after everyone complained.”