Asian Film Market logs in with online plan

Screening and market system set for 2010 edition

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BUSAN, South Korea -- The Asian Film Market has unveiled an online screening and market system for its 2010 edition.

The new online market will provide on-demand online screenings to registered participants for a limited period preceding and during the market dates, so that sellers can upload their films and buyers can fit the screenings into their schedules from anywhere around the world.

Participants are also able to network and conduct business at the online market.

The main draw of the online system will be the time and cost saved, organizers said. Buyers need not waste time during the hectic market dates traveling around venues to attend screenings that they might walk out of half way through, while sellers can cut down on their budgets on prints, shipping and screening facilities rentals. The new development is intended to redress a long-term cause for complaint.

Although the number of market screenings this year rises slightly, from 38 films in 2008 to 42 in 2009, onsite screenings are on the decline, from 68 films in 2007, and hadn't always been well received.

"The market screenings in Busan tend to be very formal, and the attendance records weren't good," said Jung Soo-jin, senior international sales manager of Korea's Showbox. Indeed, distributors last year were dismayed to find certain screenings with zero attendance.

"Buyers and sellers always talk about how very busy the market is, that there's no time to see the movies," said Nam Dong-chul, the new head of Asian Film Market who took the job in March. "Moreover, they want person-to-person contacts while in Busan, so it would be more convenient if they can see the films before the market. Nam believed that buyers would then come to AFM to verify the print before they close the deal.

The online screening platform is now being used in smaller markets across the globe, such as the Nordisk Panorama Market in Sweden, SoCal Film Market in the U.S., and Discop East in Hungary.

Another upside for the online screening system is that the sellers will have access to the information about which accredited market participants have watched the film and for how long, data which sellers considered useful.

"Korean sellers usually prefer sending out screeners than market screenings, but online screenings are better than either if we can have that data," Jung said. "It's also very accessible and can attract more international buyers." Nevertheless, Showbox will be hosting market screenings for their "Goodbye Mom," "Where the Truth Lies" and local hit "Take Off" at this year's AFM.

The online market launch is also part of an expansion strategy for AFM.

"We want to develop another way to grow our market, and online market has the potential," Nam said. "It's a system that somebody in Europe or Africa can use."

Market participants can access the screenings and do deals even when they do not intend to come to Busan at all, Nam said, as long as they're registered. "It's only the beginning of the online market system, but I think it will help the offline market," he said. "The portions of online and offline market will start to change," but at the end of the day, "buyers and sellers still want to meet in person to maintain the relationship. When digital cinema was invented, people said it will replace analog film, but it hasn't been the case. It'll be similar for online and offline markets."

Organizers are now ironing out the operational details of the launch, such as the pre-market duration for online screenings, now planned to be two weeks to a month before the market opens.

Distributors though, are more concerned with the protection measures for their films. "It's online after all," Jung said. Discussions between distributors and the organizers on this issue are expected to be held when the 2009 AFM opens this Sunday.
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