Asia is a vast continent, and getting your movie into the territory can be a challenge even for some of the world’s biggest players — there are stark geographical differences, major cultural issues and different regulatory hurdles in every market.

While traditional distribution remains strong in Asia, increasingly players are looking at electronic ways of getting around these difficulties.

These are some of the issues that will be discussed at the first Film Finance Forum at ScreenSingapore presented by Winston Baker in association with Variety June 6.

“I think digital distribution will be huge in the next decade. Asia is very wired. There needs to be a model where we can all make money and not just give it to the pirates,” says Milt Barlow, CEO of China Lion Film Distribution, a joint venture between prexy Jiang Yanming and Barlow’s New Zealand-based Incubate. China Lion has a deal to distribute titles for some of China’s leading studios including Huayi Bros., China Film Group, Golden Sun and Bona. It just picked up “3D Sex and Zen” for North American distribution.

For Barlow, combating piracy remains the biggest challenge. He reckons that 80% of his theatrical audience is arthouse or “world cinema” fans but only 20% Chinese, because most of the Chinese auds will already own a pirate copy.

Zhang Zhao quit Enlight Pictures to become CEO of LeVision Pictures in March, and he is convinced that China is the place to be, and using electronic forms of distribution is the way to be there.

“Hollywood and India are in a wave of co-productions with China and new media is the opportunity for them,” says Zhang.

While traditional film distribution still works better in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan, Asia is leading the world in the way new media and the film business are merging, and in places like South Korea and China, the sector is extremely advanced.

“In the U.S. and in Europe, the traditional film business is so strong, it takes time to change. But in China, the move to new media is happening very quickly. In China there is no choice — you either cooperate or you get acquired,” says Zhang.

He points to the example of giant Chinese webco Tencent, which in May bought a 4.6% stake in top shingle Huayi Brothers for $69.3 million.

Tencent’s business includes the wildly popular QQ instant message service, with 647 million users, along with video, music and e-commerce services. The stake makes the dotcom the biggest single institutional investor in Huayi Brothers.

“It’s like the 1980s when the film studios were being bought by traditional media groups. In China it is quite obvious that the new media companies are buying up the film companies, and they are too small to do anything about it,” says Zhang.

Asia’s wire-up revolution | Co-production function