Shanghai's TV fest spotlights animation

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SHANGHAI -- The Shanghai Television Festival opened Monday with a new focus on animation and two new award categories that organizers hope will draw greater international attention to the world's biggest potential TV market.

The 13th annual SFTV will run through Friday at the Shanghai New International Expo Center in China's commercial capital; for the first time in 10 years, the event is separate from the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Nearly 2,000 guests viewed 365 TV programs at SFTV 2006, and organizers expect a boost this year partly because of "Animation Day" on Wednesday, during which forums and screenings will explore developing trends in world animation. Producers and directors from Paramount's "Shrek" film franchise and PBS' "Sesame Street" will share their experiences -- and no doubt discuss Beijing's ban last year on airing imported animated content during Chinese primetime.

Every festival builds excitement with prizes, and SFTV's Magnolia Awards organizers hope to do so this year by adding honors for best Asian TV series and animation to a list that already includes prizes for best documentary and telefilm.

"The festival has been mostly limited to professionals in the past, but we are trying to add more audience interest," STVF manager of international relations Joy Wang says. "Animation is becoming incredibly popular in China, so we expect that to be an exciting addition."

Despite the pitfalls of trying to break into China's closely regulated TV market, producers from overseas cannot balk at the country's 347 million TV households and 1.3 billion potential viewers. Of course, tough import quotas mean China still yields limited returns.

Anke Redl, (pictured) managing director of Beijing-based media research and consulting company CMM Intelligence, has organized the European Pavilion at the festival for four years and says that despite the much-talked-about obstacles to market entry, China has a lot to offer.

"STVF continues to be an increasingly important platform for European broadcasters and production companies to present themselves and engage with Chinese media," she says.

Indeed, plenty of broadcasters will no doubt be particularly curious about the TV-advertising bonanza expected for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Among the European production companies and distributors expected to attend this year are Deutsche Welle, TV France International, Euroarts Music International GmbH, Granada, BBC and Telewizja Polska SA. Broadcasters from other parts of the world are catching on, too, as evidenced by a host of recent deals with China's top broadcasters.

For example, on June 1, Televisa announced it would travel to China this month to sign co-production deals with China Central Television and SFTV organizer Shanghai Media Group; the pacts would allow the Mexican media giant to bypass China's market restrictions on foreign TV content and boost its presence throughout Asia. Televisa executives are expected to push for co-production of the popular telenovela formats.

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