“The world has changed in the last two years, and the entertainment industry has changed enormously,” says Peggie Liu, associate director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the organizer of the Hong Kong Filmart. As is by now overwhelmingly familiar to the industry, arguably the biggest beneficiaries of the changes brought on by the pandemic are international, regional and local streaming services across the world. In 2020, the subscription video sector in the Asia Pacific region saw its revenue soar 34 percent. In the key growth region of Southeast Asia, more than 10 million new subscribers signed up for SVOD services in the second quarter of 2021 alone, according to research from regional consultancy Media Partners Asia.
So it is only fitting that the upcoming Hong Kong Filmart, to be held March 14-17, will focus on OTT and streaming platforms as one of its central highlights. “This is a market trend that we have noticed,” Liu tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That is why we have reached out to more OTT platforms and television networks, because many networks have their own streaming platforms nowadays. This will be one of our directions going forward. Many major international streamers have also been participating in Filmart as buyers, but they don’t like to draw attention to themselves.” OTT and streaming will also be key topics of EntertainmentPlus, Filmart’s rebranded seminar series.
One of the television networks exhibiting at Filmart is Thailand’s Mono Streaming. Thailand has experienced significant growth in SVOD in 2021. The country accounted for 75 percent of new subscriptions in Southeast Asia for Disney+ in the third quarter of 2021, and overall SVOD subscriptions in Thailand grew by 16 percent from the previous quarter to 11.3 million during the period. It is an increasingly competitive market with local and overseas players fighting for a piece of the pie.
“We compete with major international streamers by having Thai dubbing for all titles, which is our strength. Plus we have selective exclusive content that we pick for our audience as well,” says Sirirat Kositanont, assistant vp at Mono Streaming Co., which has its own streaming platform in Thailand called MonoMax, and is pushing the romantic title OM! Crush on Me with James Jirayu and Bow Maylada at Filmart this year. A content producer as well as distributor, it streams its own content on its platform, which is available only in Thailand, and also sells the rights to major international players. “We have had our own platform since 2013 — at that time there were not many players yet,” Kositanont says. “Nowadays, as the OTT market picks up, there are more players for consumers to choose from. We believe that every content deserves a chance to travel, customers need to be able to watch content in their most convenient way, so we have licensed various titles to different platforms — only a limited number are exclusive to our own platform.”
The rise of online streaming is something of a double-edged sword for traditional cable networks in Asia. For Sanlih E TV Co., the largest cable TV network in Taiwan, which has exhibited at Filmart since 2005, international streamers bring revenue but at the same time cut into their viewership, says Vivian Hsieh, senior vice president of the international business department of Sanlih. “In terms of revenue, online streaming platforms are our partners,” she says. “We need them to buy our content to increase our reach and increase return. But they also compete with us for audience; they do affect our viewership. Or in some cases, the streaming platforms might have bought the exclusive rights to a product, so we couldn’t buy any rights.”
However, viewership online and offline can be complementary and provide an outlet for niche content to thrive. “If a show is popular on television, its performance will usually be good on OTT platforms as well,” Hsieh said. “Whereas for niche genres, such as BL [boys’ love] dramas or hip hop music shows, even when the television viewership was not as expected, it could become very popular on online platforms.” Cable TV has been widely prevalent in Taiwan since the 1990s, which makes the audience susceptible to the pay-TV format. They are also used to a cornucopia of choices and not bound to a program schedule set by the station. This habit connects online and offline viewing: “Some audiences might catch a series halfway on television, then go online to watch it from the beginning,” Hsieh adds. Sanlih is working with major international streamers on the licensing of dramas and variety programs, but is hoping to work with them on developing and producing new programing in the future — something the company is expecting to discuss with the streamers at Filmart.
The popularity of online platforms also changes how content creators create. “The boundary between feature films and episodic series have blurred,” says Jacqueline W. Liu, producer and co-founder of Taiwan’s Each Other Films, responsible for the Golden Horse Awards winning Little Big Women (2020), which was released on Netflix internationally in 2021. “It was a trend that started about a decade ago in the U.S., but is becoming more prominent in Asia too.” Although it previously mainly produced prominent feature films, Each Other Films is launching the first season of the 13-episode comedy series Show On: An Influencer’s Rise to Her Hot Hot Fame at the Filmart market this year.
“We are no longer confined by the limits of duration, schedule and geographic space with streamed content,” adds Tiffany Chen, producer and co-founder of Each Other Films. “We are now putting the choice of content into the hands of the audience with streaming. To production companies, this is a very exciting development, because we can learn about the audience’s reactions to and discussion about the content instantaneously. The original intention of Each Other Films was based on our curiosity about the world, and to communicate with the audience. So being able to know the audience’s feedback as soon as they watch something makes us closer to them.”
The way film sales are conducted has been transformed too, insiders say. “In the past, content licensing was done through a distributor,” says Liu. “But with the rise of the streamers, producers can skip the distributor to directly deal with the streaming platform.”
“Online through VOD rights has become stronger,” adds Amy Iamphungphorn, director of international sales at Five Star Production in Thailand, which is focusing on horror sequel Pee Nak 3 at Filmart. The previous two installments of the Pee Nak franchise are already available on Netflix. “All local and international SVOD platform operators are interested in our content, and we hope at Filmart 2022 we can presell Pee Nak 3 to even more countries.”