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Is the Asian Film Market Ready for Fintech?

Japanese indie film veteran Yuko Shiomaki is trying to put a human face onto blockchain, as online film platforms boldly move from back office functionality into movie financing.

A former talent agent and producer, founder of Japan’s Pictures Department, and a Busan market regular, Shiomaki is now the Asia representative of SingularDTV. The Swiss company claims to be “building the world’s first blockchain entertainment ecosystem.”

On a day when typhoon winds and heavy rain were lashing the Busan Film Festival’s venues, it is easy to imagine how staying at home or in a hotel room, and working from a computer or mobile device, is preferable to the stress and expense of attending a real-world film market.

The past years have seen the launch of several online marketplaces dedicated to trading film and TV rights. Such sites include BidSlate, FilmHub, MediaBank and Singapore-based AllRites.

Their functionality, and the bandwidth that was not available 20 years ago when the dot-com boom saw the attempted launch of similar virtual IP marts, mean that today they are also screening platforms, scouting and selection services, and collection agencies. That creates the space for some surprising partnerships.

The Vesoul Asian film festival this week announced that it has curated a selection of restored Mongolian films and that it has contracted with the Cinemarket platform as a route to market for the titles.

The attraction of using a blockchain-style distributed ledger, where data on credits, rights, contracts, box office or scheduling is available to all, clearly has attraction for an industry where many decisions are made with only partial information. It could mean less need for collection agencies, rights markets and other intermediaries.

But is the indie film industry ready to allow online platforms to replace distributors and sales agents as film financiers?

SingularDTV says it is involved in the production and financing of several current movies, through a process called “tokenization.” That takes the process several steps further than the strictly-for-fans process of crowdfunding.

This week, MovieCoin, which counts Cassian Elwes among its advisors, made a similar claim. Describing itself as an “organizing entity to facilitate all film and television content investment through discrete financing vehicles,” MovieCoin said it intends to “execute programmatic financing of multiple film and television projects to be produced, financed and managed with the issuance of cryptographic tokens.”

Proponents of tokenization claim that anything from film rights through to merchandizing can be broken down into pieces of equity, known as tokens, and sold to studios, independents or fans. By using blockchain, or one of its derivatives such as Ethereum, companies and individuals can keep track of a project and its tokens, and buy in or sell out at any stage.

“Many movie producers struggle today in the dead-end economy of independent cinema, but SingularDTV will renew the industry with a totally new ecosystem,” said Shiomaki in a prepared statement.

SingularDTV’s first feature film is “The Happy Worker,” directed by Duwayne Dunham, executive produced by David Lynch and starring Josh Whitehouse, Thomas Haden Church and Colm Meaney. In Asia it says it is involved in tokenized film projects “Striding Into the Wind,” by Chinese director Wei Shujun Wei, and “After Graduation, What’s Next?,” by Hong Kong filmmaker Fung Ho.

Others might see SingularDTV’s slate as an example of circular logic. Another of its upcoming titles is the Alex Winter-directed documentary “Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain.”

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