Hong Kong Filmart: Japanese Firms Exploring New Distribution Channels

2012-44 BKLOT Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre H

CineAsia will take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which overlooks scenic Victoria Harbor.

By screening more live events in foreign cinemas, Japanese distributors hope to reverse the country’s historically weak international sales record.

A group of leading Japanese and Hong Kong film professionals convened at Hong Kong’s Filmart Monday morning to discuss strategies for distributing Japanese digital-media content more widely overseas, in hopes of helping to reverse the country’s historically weak international sales record.

Despite an annual box office of around $2 billion, more than 550 local films released in 2012 and a rich culture of digital media, Japan has minimal overseas earnings, said Kakeo Yoshio, director of the Kinema Junpo Research Institute. 

STORY: Hollywood’s Share of Japanese Box Office Falls to Lowest Level Since 1965

“Income from exports of Japanese films amounts to less than 2.5 percent of the domestic box office. Although it's not a perfect comparison, by contrast, Hollywood films take twice as much abroad as they do at home in North America,” said Kakeo.

Kii Mineyuki, CEO of digital-cinema pioneer T-Joy, the first chain in Japan to fully digitalize its theaters, explained how his company has embarked on a strategy of diversifying into distributing alternative content, both domestically and overseas. Some of the most successful formats include live-cinema screenings of sporting events, concerts and theatrical productions, he said.

"The risk is, of course, lower for a live broadcast of an event than making and distributing a film. In addition, audiences pay higher admission fees, and advertising costs are generally lower due to preexisting fan bases and the events themselves being separately promoted by the organizers," noted Kii.

Events can also be internationally broadcast simultaneously, provided cinemas have satellite receiving capabilities, Kii added, noting that Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan have all already screened events from Japan.

STORY: Hong Kong Filmart: 5 Events Not to Miss

Kanazawa Takanobu of Japan's Village Inc. explained how his company has adapted ten musicals and plays for "Geki Cine" theatrical screenings of edited live performances, though they have only been distributed domestically so far.

Kozo Tetsuya, senior vp at Sony PCL, a visual-content and technology division at the Japanese entertainment to electronics giant, outlined its Livewire platform, which creates and distributes alternative content to cinemas. This content has included an award-winning 3D concert by Japanese pop megastar Ayumi Hamasaki, who has a pan-Asian fan base.

Kozo also showed footage of content recorded in ultra high-definition 4K, on a big-screen Sony demonstration-model TV for the next-generation format.

Belinda Tsang of Orange Sky Golden Harvest suggested that Japanese content has a strong fan base in Hong Kong, where her company is already holding screenings, both live and recorded, of events and content from Japan.

"Japanese film companies and creators need to be moving beyond borders, being conscious of foreign markets and promoting their contents overseas," said T-Joy's Kii.