Busan: Race for Intellectual Property Is Consuming the Asian Entertainment Business

Courtesy of Hong Jacga/LINE Webtoon
'Star Wars: Story Before The Force Awakens,' a South Korean webcomic by Hong Jacga

South Korea's top technology execs discussed the growth in investment patterns attached to projects based on intellectual property, including novels, comics and games.

Asian entertainment execs are falling over each other in the competition for intellectual property, original works from traditional formats such as films and books to newer sources such as mobile games and web comics, scouring the region for material to adapt and remake for their own markets.

Last year, for example, South Korean reality show Dad! Where Are We Going? was picked up for remakes in four territories spanning from China to Russia. The Chinese version of the show, in particular, recorded hit ratings on China's Hunan Satellite TV. It was then edited into a feature-length version, and the film received such a successful theatrical release that it also got a sequel.

During a series of seminars at Busan's Asian Film Market on Sunday, top Korean technology execs and legal experts discussed the growth in financial and legal transactions attached to projects based on IPs.

Andy Jiwoong Kim, CEO of Seoul-based venture capital TGCK Partners, described how his company focuses on projects based on "webtoons" (Korean comic strips published online) and novels. "They come with a fan base and lower risks," Kim said. "We're working with major Chinese studios, and many of them are investing in Korean webtoon companies. Some animation companies are interested in using Korean IP for feature-length animations and TV series."

Similarly, Kakao, which provides Korea's most popular instant-messaging app and streaming service, recognizes the advantages of carrying content based on IP. It carries hundreds of "webtoon" (web comic strips) in its library, among which Tong: Memories was recently adapted into a movie.

"The film brought in 100 million won [about $90,000] even though it didn't feature any star cast or crew members. Revenue for the original webtoon also went up. I believe this is because of our target marketing strategy," said Jo Han Kyoo, director of Kakao's content business team.

Jo explained that he referred to Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba and Tencent, which use "big data" garnered from the internet to yield more precise audience targeting. "Online platforms and social networks provide the advantage of immediate consumer feedback. It helps us target a certain niche unlike how traditional platforms could only focus on projects that were likely to be mass marketed," he said.

Harry Yoon, chief content officer of SK Broadband, explained how the telecommunication giant is also relying on big data. "We have large quantities of big data analysis that we can provide to animation production houses. It helps producers decide on the genre of animation they should be creating and which age groups to target," he said.

Online crowdfunding platforms, moreover, are also changing the way films are financed and marketed, said Shin Hye Sung, CEO of Wadiz Corp. The Hunt, a period epic handled by Lotte Entertainment, garnered 300 million won (about $270,000) in just one day. Equity crowdfunding became legal in Korea earlier this year, and online investors were allowed to earn a return on their investment as the film crossed certain box-office goals.

"But not all projects have been as successful," Shin said. The Last Princess, another Lotte title, was a box-office hit but failed to meet its crowdfunding goals. "We're learning a lot about the difference between 'sponsors' and 'investors' and what kind of project does or does not work."

The Asian Film Market continues through Tuesday in conjunction with the 21st Busan International Film Festival, which wraps Oct. 15.

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