Rights Markets: Singapore Media Festival Takes Hybrid Route While Hong Kong FilMart Stays Online Only

WarnerMedia Singapore Office

Audiovisual rights markets in Asia are coming up with new features to attract and retain executive interest, as business travel in the region remains deeply troublesome.

The Singapore Media Festival, which kicked off on Thursday, is opting for a hybrid format, with a mix of in-person and online component events. But Hong Kong’s FilMart, traditionally Asia’s largest film and TV rights market, this week announced that its March 2022 convention will be held online-only for the third time.

The FilMart organizers’ announcement did not even try to explain the reasons for cancelling the in-person meeting. Doing so might be seen as dangerously unpatriotic.

In line with policy in mainland China, the Hong Kong city government is pursuing a zero-COVID policy. This requires its immigration and health authorities to adopt one of the longest and most rigid quarantine systems in the world, over the objections of foreign business groups in the city which have warned that Hong Kong may lose its status as a hub for trade, finance and legal matters. With the prospect of China keeping its borders essentially closed for another 12 months, Hong Kong’s other flagship events, including the Rugby Sevens Tournament, have also moved dates or stayed online only.

Singapore has a vastly higher coronavirus caseload – it reported 2,079 cases on Wednesday (2,070 local and in dormitories, 9 imported), compared with Hong Kong’s six (zero community infections, 6 imported) on Thursday – yet it is Singapore that is now rebuilding its hub status by restoring travel links, including reopening the land border crossings with Malaysia.

Among the SMF component events, Thursday’s VidCon was held in-person at the Suntec Convention Centre. The Singapore International Film Festival kicked off the same day with a restricted-seating opening ceremony at the Shaw Lido and a presentation of Edwin’s “Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash.”

“All screenings will be held in theaters, in the format they are meant to be enjoyed,” said Emily J. Hoe at a pre-launch even on Tuesday. Hoe joined the festival committee last year just as lockdowns were being introduced and seven months later was only able to put on an online festival.

The Asia Television Forum, a conventional rights market, will be a hybrid within a hybrid. Its opening day of conferences and speeches next Tuesday will be held live at an auditorium within the Marina Bay Sands complex. But most executives are likely to watch a live stream of proceedings, before turning to the ATF Online Plus platform for their business presentations and personalized meetings. The market will have a China focus, while the conference section will major on Asian streaming platform and how they are changing the production and distribution models.

The ATF Online Plus platform will remain functional until June next year, allowing business to be continued long after the SMF – and FilMart – has finished. All one-on-one project meetings will be held online too.

Possibly the most disrupted SMF component is Singapore ComiCon, which may be quite unlike its high energy, fan-forward namesake in San Diego, and may be less focused on games playing than last year’s online confab. The SGCC will split itself in two and run for a month, starting Dec 3. The SGCC Online part will contain (virtual) stages, conventions and workshops recognizable from the real-world pop culture conventions. The SGCC E-Mall is backed by e-commerce app Shoppee and is month of merchandize sales.

FilMart’s response is to launch a new conference program. Branded as EntertainmentPulse, it promises to host experts who uncover the latest landscapes in streaming, content creation and formats, and inspire audiences with the technological breakthroughs in production.

The recent Busan and Tokyo rights markets offer a glimmer of hope. Busan operated a hybrid (but mostly online) market and saw participant numbers in its second e-edition rise compared with the October 2020 outing. While outbound and return travel remain difficult, in-person market participation will stay predominantly local.

But many executives have now become used to half a dozen Zoom meetings per day and are comfortable with dialing in from abroad, giving online markets an international flavor and keeping them meaningful. Still, the question on the lips of many film and TV folk is whether their first overseas trip will be to Berlin in February next year, or Cannes in May.