As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on around the world, audiences found themselves turning to streaming services for entertainment during lockdowns. While box-office revenues plummeted in 2020, major streaming services reported significant surges in viewership worldwide. A study in the United Kingdom reported a 71% year-over-year increase in streaming service viewership during national lockdown, and a majority of new subscribers said that they plan to continue spending the same amount of time watching streamed content in the future.
Streamers have also long recognized that there is plenty of demand for non-English-language content among their subscribers, and Asia is one of the key regions to fill that demand.
In addition to being one of the largest content markets in Asia, the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (FILMART) is also one of the world’s largest showcases for new Chinese-language content. The 2020 edition, which went virtual after a five-month delay due to the pandemic, presented more than 2,100 film and TV productions, and nearly 7,000 executives from 73 countries and regions around the world attended, according to organizer Hong Kong Trade Development Council. HKTDC representatives say that they expect to have around 700 exhibitors at the 2021 edition of FILMART, set to be held virtually again this year from March 15 to March 18.
According to the council, nearly half of 2020 exhibitors provided Chinese content. HKTDC aims for FILMART to continue serving as a springboard for international buyers to find new Chinese-language content from around the region. With one Chinese exhibitor reporting that 30% of the exhibitor’s prospective clients at last year’s virtual market were new buyers, Chinese exhibitors will no doubt be hoping to take advantage of the increase in OTT buyers with their original offerings this year.
China International Television Corp., China’s state broadcaster, is handling sales on highly anticipated costume drama “The Rebel Princess.” In her first foray into television, superstar Ziyi Zhang (“Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) stars as a princess who becomes the ruler of a fictional kingdom alongside her husband. The 68-episode series co-stars Zhou Yiwei (“Dying to Survive”), Tony Yo-ning Yang (“Monster Hunt 2”) and Kara Wai (“The Midnight After”).
Taiwan public broadcaster Public Television Service (PTS) Foundation has been on the rise in recent years as a major TV player in the region, thanks to original productions, such as “Detention: The Series,” “On Children,” “The Teenage Psychic” and “The World Between Us,” reaching a global audience on streaming services. At FILMART Online, PTS is showcasing “Tears on Fire,” a series about the lives of four firefighters and the hurdles they face both at work and in life. It stars Golden Horse winner Liu Kuan-ting (“A Sun”), Austin Lin (“I Weirdo”), Annie Chen and James Wen. PTS is also promoting “The Worldly Heaven,” an anthology fantasy series centered around Eastern medicine that marks Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong’s first role in Taiwanese television. PTS reps tell Variety that they have attracted significant interest for their TV dramas from overseas buyers.
Mainland Chinese streamer iQIYI Inc., one of the largest streaming services in Asia, is offering original series “Who Is Murderer.” Starring Zhao Liying (“The Monkey King 3,” TV series “The Story of Ming Lan”), Xiao Yang (“Detective Chinatown” series) and Dong Zijian (Jia Zhangke’s “Mountains May Depart”), the series follows three unlikely allies investigating a 16-year-old murder case.
Though box-office receipts fell by 72% in Hong Kong last year, Hong Kong indie production outfit Golden Scene Company Ltd. had one of local cinema’s few bright spots in 2020 with the critical and commercial success of romance drama “Beyond the Dream.” The company’s featured title at FILMART 2021 is Adam Wong’s “The Way We Keep Dancing,” the sequel to his 2013 hit “The Way We Dance.” The film was nominated for six Golden Horse Awards and served as the closing film of the 2020 Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.
Front and center on the slate from Hong Kong’s Media Asia Distribution Ltd. is “Septet: The Story of Hong Kong.” The opening film of last year’s Busan International Film Festival and winner of the Audience Award at Tokyo Filmex 2020, the omnibus features seven short films by veteran directors Sammo Hung, Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To and Tsui Hark.
Taipei-based Distribution Workshop (BVI) Ltd. will be offering “Chinese Doctors,” one of the first Chinese dramatic narrative films to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. The film reunites Hong Kong director Andrew Lau with actor Zhang Hanyu, the star of his hit disaster film “The Captain.” The company also handled the sale of “Little Big Women” late last year.
HKTDC representatives say that more than 2,000 online business matching meetings were held between exhibitors and buyers in last year’s edition of FILMART, partly thanks to the council’s efforts to provide customized recommendations to exhibitors and buyers according to their business needs. The organizer says that this year’s FILMART Online platform will be enhancing that service with a more effective and sophisticated search engine that will help participants find the content they need.
With the boom in streaming worldwide, FILMART 2021’s expert panels and seminars will also be naturally shifting to talking about the role that internet platforms will play in shaping the industry’s future. In addition to thematic panels on TV formats, OTT, documentaries, kids’ animated content, and the latest entertainment technology, there will also be dialogues with industry leaders including: Saurabh Doshi, head of entertainment partnerships at Facebook’s Asia-Pacific office; Ali Hussein, chief executive officer of Eros Now, the internet streaming platform of India’s Eros STX Global Corp.; and Kaichen Li, head of Tencent’s WeTV and iflix video platforms.