MIPTV looks to the East

China, Malaysia lead Asian surge

A sharply increased presence from China, Malaysia and India marked the opening of the MIPTV market Monday, with broadcasters and distributors optimistic about the opportunities driven by a surge in new channels and digital platforms in Asia.

Asian distributors arrived in France saying that they expect the program syndication business this year to be up anywhere from 10%-100%.

More than 850 companies from 12 Asian countries are exhibiting at the show, according to premarket figures from organizer Reed Midem. That's about 7% more firms than last year.

China sports 124 exhibitors, up from 60 in 2006, with the 2008 Beijing Olympics among the factors fueling the higher profile, said analyst Kristian Kender from Beijing-based media research company CMMI.

Malaysia's exhibitor presence more than doubled to 69 this year, and India is up to 43 from 25 in 2006. The biggest dips are from Japan and South Korea, while Vietnam dropped off the map after sending six exhibitors last year.

Among the initiatives driving deals are new VOD channels in Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Korea; regional pay TV channels from companies like BBC Worldwide Global Channels; and the rise of broadband portals like Hanaro Telecom's HanaTV in Korea, which signed up 350,000 subscribers in six months and is targeting 1 million users by this time next year.

The biggest impact on Hong Kong's buying habits will be the launch of digital terrestrial television at year's end, said Cecilia Tan, head of programming at Television Broadcasts Ltd.'s English-language Pearl channel.

New platforms are expected to add 10%-20% to the Asian business across the board, added James Ross, Granada International's Hong Kong-based regional director. The highest demand from local broadcasters is for high-end action drama and documentaries, he said.

From the U.K., Off the Fence expected business in Asia this year to double last year's, sales executive Rosie O'Flynn said.

Korea's apparent willingness to pay top dollar for content in a fiercely competitive environment fueled by the emerging digital platforms is driving much of the regional syndication business. However, analysts warned that current content pricing levels might be unsustainable, though demand will remain high as traditional and new platforms jostle for audience share.

Already, major pay TV programmer OnMedia is planning to reduce dependence on acquired programming because of dramatically increased acquisition costs, said Vivek Couto, research head at Hong Kong-based Media Partners Asia.

"Pricing in Korea is at record levels and has to be rationalized," Couto said.

Nondomestically, Korean distributors expect regional and international sales to be up from last year. Pubcaster Korean Broadcasting System set sales targets of $2 million for MIPTV this year, up 43% from last year. Last year's sales jumped 15% from 2005, said Peter Kim, KBS spokesman and producer on the KBS global strategy team.

Deals this year are expected to be driven by demand for such KBS dramas as romantic comedy "Hello, My Lady" from China, Taiwan, Japan and Indochina, and by European buyers' appetite for Korean factual programming, Kim said.

Malaysian-based regional producer and distributor Juita Viden is focusing on formats that could be affordably localized "as we evolve with the demand for more local content," group executive director Peter Foo said.

Juita Viden's formats priorities are Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. Foo's MIPTV shopping list also covers documentaries for China, feature films for Indonesia and Taiwan and educational or animated series with licensing and merchandising potential, he said.

Singapore's focus is on finding co-production partners and showcasing the country's high-definition production abilities, Media Development Authority CEO Christopher Chia said.

The MDA leads 21 companies to MIPTV 2007 with a record showcase of more than 50 HD television and animation programs.