Busan’s Asian Contents & Film Market kicks off Monday in virtual format for the second year. But that COVID-enforced constraint may not be an impediment.

Market stalls operated on behalf of sales companies are virtual, and many Korean sellers will stay in place in Seoul, rather than making the trip to Busan. But the E-IP Pitching segment will be held live and on site.

The four-day ACFM will also include keynote presentations and conversations from “Old Boy” director Park Chan-wook and industry executives from companies including Walt Disney, China’s iQiyi, and Korea’s TVing and Korea Telecom.

In its first virtual year, the market welcomed 205 companies (buyers and sellers) from Korea and abroad, with some 833 contents of different sorts traded. This year the event is expected to be bigger, both as a result of the industry becoming more comfortable using a virtual platform for a market, and due to the burgeoning interest in Korean culture that has followed K-pop’s triumphal BTS, TV’s “Squid Game” and film’s Oscar achievements with “Parasite.”

Organizers report 1,389 registered participants from 52 countries, a 57% increase from last year. They report 200 institutions and sales companies have registered for online booths. Between them, they will put on 318 market screenings. Some 112 festival selections are also available for online screening by registered market participants.

“If we take the example of ‘Squid Game,’ we can’t deny the global popularity that K-content is enjoying,” says Nam Dong Chul, program director for the festival, and a former executive on the market side.
Busan’s move to accommodate content other than pure feature film within the Busan has been under way for several years. Signaling that intention, the market changed its name from Asian Film Market to Asian Contents and Film Market in 2019. And the E-IP section was added before that.

“We recognized that expanding our market to include drama, novels and web toons was essential. Of course, diving in to bring film and TV professionals together right away made no sense, but there is a sweet spot where synergies exist between both industries that we could start exploring.”

This year the biggest (voluntary) innovation is the launch of the On Screen section, which plays host to original shows from OTT platforms, including Netflix’s “Hellbound,” a fantasy thriller from director “Train to Busan” director Yeon Sang-ho, and HBO Asia’s “Forbidden” by Thailand’s Anucha Boonyawatana and Korea-based Korean-American Josh Kim.

Travel restrictions are reinforcing the Korean focus of both the Busan festival and the ACFM. “Due to Covid, we invited fewer foreign guests, maybe only 5% compared to before, and have had to run the market online. But we hope to operate at 70-80% capacity next year, if conditions permit,” says Nam.

He says that there have been past discussions about possible partnerships with Broadcast Worldwide (BCWW) and the Busan Contents Market, Koreas’ two other big content sales events. “It makes sense and we have thought about it. However, these markets have different organizations in charge and aligning objectives isn’t simple,” Nam said, “Film is still our primary focus and we won’t deviate too far from that. Instead, we’ll build on what we have and continue to gradually expand.”