Shanghai TV fest ends with few deals, much talk

150 TV stations, producers and distributors attend exhibition

SHANGHAI -- After five days of modest attendance and few deals, the 15th Shanghai Television Festival closed Friday with focused talk about the great small-screen potential for Sino-foreign partnerships.

The TV marketplace at the Shanghai Exposition Center was filled with booths set up by U.S. network CBS, Canadian animation giant Nelvana and Germany's Deutsche Welle, among other international exhibitors trying to crack the complex China market.

Downstairs in the main hall of the cavernous Soviet-era building, festival hosts Shanghai Media Group and China Central Television dominated the domestic floor, with satellite channels from Hunan and Jiangsu provinces close behind in terms of foot traffic.

"It was a great market for me to come and learn about how business works in China," said Alejandro Toro, Asia and Africa sales representative for Bogota, Colombia-based Caracol.

Toro arrived in Shanghai for the first time with a view to selling a localized version of the telenovela "Neighbors," a No. 1 hit back home that sold across Latin America. "We've not yet sold in Asia, and that's why I'm here."

Overall, there were 150 TV stations, producers and distributors present in the hall and about 500 buyers and industry professionals in attendance, organizers said.

Talk was mostly of the sale of formats, not finished product. Some looked to Mexican giant Televisa's recent deal for a new localized telenovela with the Shanghai Media Group for a model.

Following the success of two seasons of a localized Chinese version of "Ugly Betty" -- made for Hunan Satellite TV -- Televisa signed up with SMG for "Jia You, You Yang" about a young woman who feigns her death and moves to Shanghai to raise her son after she catches her husband and sister in an affair.

Televisa's Asia adviser Arturo Casares said the hope now is to work with SMG to market shows on all platforms, building on the reputation earned by the high ratings of the Chinese "Ugly Betty," whose third season will air on Hunan TV in September, backed again by sponsor Unilever.

"Our aim in China is to do more comprehensive platform delivery," said Beijing-based Casares, who will oversee "Jia You" with producer Ma Zhongjun of Beijing-based Ciwen Digital Oriental Film & TV Production Co. Televisa and SMG are now talking with multinational advertisers and with leading Chinese dairies Yili and Mengniu for sponsorship of the planned 120 episodes, each of which costs about $25,000 to make.

With the localization model for Sino-foreign success now possible as media regulators open up to foreign entertainment scorned as recently as five years ago, the uncertain economic climate was the prime impediment to other deals getting done.

"There were few actual deals signed but there was a lot of exploratory talk," said Anke Redl, director of Beijing-based media consultancy China Media Monitor Intelligence.

Still, while Chinese ad revenue is down across all media, fresh data Friday showed that consumer spending is up and may soon spark a return in ads. China's enthusiasm for its own growth echoes American optimism pre-crash.

At a final day networking lunch hosted by SMG, a few of China's No. 2 media company's many channels laid out their visions for what should work, inviting gathered international guests to collaborate, sometimes via slide presentations that were lost, sweetly, in translation. One advertised "Indefinite Possibilities" where "Infinite" was meant.

Ge Gong, a longtime Dragon TV host and former CNN TV news producer, announced the launch of the 12-part English-language reality TV competition series "Shanghai Rush" on SMG's International Channel Shanghai.

A "sort-of" localized "Amazing Race" set only in Shanghai (host to the World Expo in 2010) Ge said, "The city is the star of the show."

Ge, who co-heads the multinational team behind the production that began airing over the last two weeks, added: "It's high time for China to come up with its own formats. That's my dream."