Busan: Asian Film Market Sets Records as IP Deals Take Center Stage

Courtesy of Busan International Film Festival
Asian Film Market

Chinese buyers had a strong presence at the South Korean event despite geopolitical issues that have stalled business between the two Asian industries.

The 2018 Asian Film Market wrapped Tuesday after a four-day run, with more interest than ever for intellectual property, or original works from traditional formats, such as films, books and web comics, that are adaptable across multiple media platforms. 

This year saw a spike in the number of featured titles in the Entertainment IP (E-IP) Market, a trading zone for IP rights that has become a signature feature of the South Korean market. A total of 29 novels, “webtoons” (the local term for online comic strips), web novels and other narrative content were introduced through the seventh annual Book to Film and E-IP Pitching events this year, a huge increase from the 11 titles last year.

More than 500 industry professionals from the film, TV and drama sectors attended the events, often causing a frenzy in the limited venue space. A pilot event, the Asian IP Showcase, drew a particularly big crowd as it featured Japanese and Chinese content, marking an expansion from previous editions’ lineup of Korean titles only.

The market events attracted attendees representing major entertainment giants ranging from Netflix, YouTube Premium and Global Gate to South Korea’s JTBC, SBS The Story Works and Studio Dragon.

The E-IP Market also handed out eight awards this year, up from two in 2017. South Korean investor-distributor New Entertainment World (NEW) selected The Sixth Wife by Goraebang and Good Job by All That Story for the New Creator Award, giving out 10 million Korean won (about $8,800) to each winner. The Global web comic platform Tory Comics presented 5 million won (about $4,400) to A Week Before I Die among the Book-to-Film titles, as well as to Land of SilenceThe Devil and Delivery Knight from E-IP Pitching. The E-IP Audience Award went to The Insect and Devil School.

The growing presence of platforms and other content in addition to film reflects the future direction of the Asian Film Market. According to Oh Seok-geun, director of the state-backed Korean Film Council, talks are underway with organizers of the Busan International Film Festival, the Korean culture ministry, Busan city and other related bodies to expand the Asian Film Market beyond its traditional focus on films.

"The Busan Asian Film Market must become more competitive and distinguish itself from Cannes or American film markets," Oh said. "We are envisioning a ‘total market’ to include not only films but also TV dramas, web dramas and other content."

Meanwhile, there was a marked presence of Chinese buyers and production companies — in spite of how recent geopolitical tensions have stalled business between the South Korean and Chinese entertainment industries.

A rep for South Korea’s Lotte Entertainment said Chinese buyers accounted for “almost half of the business meetings," adding that "the demand was high for films’ ancillary rights since Korean films do not receive theatrical release in China these days.”

Ever since Seoul decided in July 2016 to deploy a U.S. missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, its relations with Beijing are widely deemed to have reached their worst point since diplomatic ties started in 1992. South Korean stars have been unable to obtain permission to perform or work in China since September 2016, while no Korean films screened in Chinese theaters that year despite the popularity of South Korean films and TV dramas.

The Asian Film Market overall set records in terms of both the number of participants and business meetings, according to organizers. A total 1,737 professionals representing 911 companies from 54 countries attended the market. The number of countries represented increased by 20 percent, while the number of companies was up by 38 percent compared with 2017.