Busan: Market Finds Positives After Festival’s Difficult Year

Busan Market
Photo by Sasha Don

Having carefully lowered visitors’ expectations prior to the event, organizers of Busan’s 2016 Asian Film Market were able to sound an optimistic note at its finale on Tuesday.

A final communique reported an increase in the number of companies participating in the market. It also proclaimed that the Busan market has “grown to become a total entertainment market that comprises diverse industries such as original TV & movie script companies; webtoons, web novels and literary publishers; as well as foreign sales companies and national agencies from various Asian countries.”

Factors weighing on the market prior to its opening had included an ongoing boycott of Busan by a number of Korean companies, a reduced operating budget, fraud charges against the market director, and China’s semi-official policy for Chinese companies to be less aggressive buyers of Korean content.

The multiple changes to the market’s components also make like-for-like comparisons difficult. The BIFCOM locations market was this year removed from under the market banner and the ‘casting market’ launched last year was dropped. Speciality segments for IP pitching and book to film adaptations were expanded. They serve to reduce the Busan market’s emphasis on sales of rights to completed or in-production feature films, and shift it on to other concepts.

On the ground, the internal walls of the Bexco Convention Center appeared to have been brought closer together and corridors between booths narrowed in order to create the impression of busy activity. There were no events and seminars after the first two days and the number of people on the sales floor dropped markedly on the afternoon of Day 3. On the fourth day foot traffic was thin at best.

For many participants that was scarcely a hardship and represented business as usual. Some said told Variety that they were able to have longer meetings. Other sellers said that they had full schedules of pre-arranged meetings and had little expectation of impromptu walk-in business. The European Film Promotion umbrella stand appeared well-occupied till nearly the end.

“We’re satisfied with the market in general. We had to cut down the scale and number of sidebar events and seminars due to the budget cut, which led to less foot traffic on the last two days of the market,” said Jang Eun-seok, Asian Film Market executive. “But the actual number of badges and booths was of an average year. And some of the E-IP pitched and/or introduced at the market have actually signed production deals.”

The partially observed boycott of Busan by the Korean industry had mixed effects on the market. All of the major sales companies were present, but with the exception of Lotte, few made Busan the platform to launch significant new titles. The Korean major companies did not hold the lavish parties that they have in previous times used to unveil the next 12 months of sales and domestic distribution titles.

“There were less people in the corridors, but we were busy with meetings, 30 minute meetings,” said Aymeric Contat Desfontaines of Hong Kong-based All Rights Entertainment. “There were clearly less Korean buyers here this year. Many had chosen to stay away.”

As Korea is a key target market for many foreign sales, fewer Korean distributors in attendance may have meant a reduced buying force this year. But a Seoul stop-over either before or after the market may have fixed that.

For the Korean companies selling in Busan there were positives.

“Although we hear that the overall number of buyers attending the market is smaller this year, most foreign buyers that regularly buy Korean films were here –maybe less Chinese buyers. Regardless of the actual number of the participants, our sales were those of an average year. We also closed several deals for ‘Will You Be There?’ here,” said Byeon Eun-hye, sales representative at Lotte.

“Owing to the recent box office success of ‘Train to Busan,’ we had a busier market this year. Almost all buyers who bought rights to ‘Train’ came back for new titles. ‘Pandora,’ potentially another huge disaster flick to follow ‘Train,’ received a great deal of offers,” said Contents Panda director of international business team, Danny Lee.

“Market participants told us that there was less foot traffic this year, but since we believe ‘Train’ has (positively) affected the way foreign buyers see and value Korean films in general, I wish it had had a positive effect on other Korean films’ sales too.”

Asian Film Market 2016 By The Numbers
Market Badges: 742 companies from 47 countries, 1,381 participants
Sales Booth: 157 companies from 24 countries, 62 sales booths
Market Screening: 42 companies from 13 countries, 63 films presented, 68 screenings (50 market premieres)
Online Screening: 214 films (including 172 films presented at BIFF)