This has taken much longer than intended, but I’m attempting to bring Streamlined back as a weekly newsletter to shine a light on the many film and TV industries outside of ‘the West’, which the international industry often regards as ‘the Rest’, even though these are the regions that media conglomerates are desperately hoping will keep them afloat in the future.
In this first comeback edition, I’ve summarised events in the fast-moving world of streaming over the summer, and Asia’s potential role within that, and taken a quick look at how the post-pandemic festival circuit is shaking out. Next week, I’m focusing on Asia’s post-pandemic box office recovery.
It’s been a busy summer, for the industry and for me personally – I started writing for Deadline and got involved in some in-depth research on production infrastructure in the APAC region, some of which I’m hoping to share in future editions of Streamlined. Once I’m back in Asia from mid-September, I’ll be doing original reporting into what is really happening in some of the major production hubs across the region. Nothing beats old-fashioned shoe leather journalism and thanks to Covid that has been next to impossible for the past few years.
1. The End Of The Streaming Honeymoon
This summer has seen a slew of announcements from the streamers about international expansion plans and their continuing race for content and sports rights – Paramount+ began it global rollout in Europe, India and South Korea and announced a slate of international originals; Disney+ launched in 16 markets across the Middle East and North Africa; and Amazon Prime Video, which launched globally as far back as 2016, announced its first slate of Southeast Asian originals and localised user interface. In India, Viacom18 nabbed the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament in a $2.6bn deal that strengthens the streaming ambitions of part-owner Paramount Global in this key market, but weakens Disney+ Hotstar, which previously held the rights and grew to be India’s biggest streamer on the back of them.
But reality has also started to bite. Netflix cleverly spun the loss of nearly one million subscribers worldwide in the second quarter as “less bad than expected” but as the summer rolled on, it became clear that the sheen had started to come off streaming. Warner Bros Discovery’s response to the cash suck of streaming was to throw the baby, or at least the Batgirl, out with the bathwater in a massive cost-cutting drive aimed at repositioning it for the realities of the streaming era.
Meanwhile, in China, streaming market leaders like Tencent Video and iQiyi were suffering from a perfect storm of subscriber saturation, softening advertising revenues as China’s Covid-battered economy stalled, and a much stricter regulatory environment. Rumours were spinning over the summer that Baidu was planning to put its majority stake in iQiyi on the block.
Streamers’ share prices, both in the US and China, have been on a downward trajectory for most of the year, but Indiewire pointed out in an analysis that Fox and Sony have seen much smaller share price declines, suggesting that NOT being a streamer is a pretty smart move. Now the talk is all about how to make premium television for less money and making selective commissioning choices, rather than the Netflix approach of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
And this is where “the Rest” comes in. Not only is Asia a region in which it is much cheaper to produce content, it’s also where the streamers are hoping their future subscriber growth is going to come from. While Netflix reported its biggest subscriber loss ever in the second quarter, the streamer gained a net 1.08 million subscribers in the Asia Pacific region. APAC revenue was up 23% to $900m, approaching the size of Netflix’s Latin American business.
Although levels of production infrastructure vary wildly, the region already has thriving film and TV industries in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, China (albeit mostly off limits), India and Thailand, with several more emerging in Southeast Asia. Indonesia with a population of 270 million and high smartphone penetration has become the latest streaming battleground in the region, with Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon and regional players all investing heavily in local-language content, and Netflix joining the fray this week with the announcement of an Indonesian content slate.
The issue for most of Asia is that there is only so much talent to go around, and in some territories, only a handful of writers, directors and producers with international sensibilities if the streamers are hoping to produce content that can travel outside its home country. In Indonesia, filmmakers like Timo Tjahjanto, Joko Anwar And Kamila Andini appear to be booked up for years, a similar situation exists in India and many other countries, so good luck if you’re an independent producer trying to put together a film you’re hoping will one day premiere at Cannes.
2. Festival Circuit Redux
And speaking of festivals, while Europe’s autumn festival circuit kicks off with Locarno and Venice, with the latter currently in progress (August 31-September 10), Asia’s doesn’t really get rolling until Busan International Film Festival in early October. Busan and two of Asia’s other major festivals, Tokyo International Film Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival, all managed to keep running as physical or hybrid events during the pandemic, but with hardly any overseas guests due to Covid travel restrictions. (Hong Kong wrapped a mostly physical edition this week after being postponed from April, but had very few overseas guests as Hong Kong still has a three-day hotel quarantine requirement).
Now Asia is mostly open, the big festivals are once again welcoming overseas visitors. Busan and its accompanying Asian Contents & Film Market (ACFM) are both taking place as in-person events and South Korea has even dropped its requirement for a pre-departure PCR test. Tokyo is also welcoming international guests to the festival, although its market, TIFFCOM, has opted to stay online. Some other events have temporarily disappeared from the calendar this year: Shanghai International Film Festival (usually in June) and El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt (usually September/October) were both cancelled although hope to come back next year, while the International Film Festival and Awards Macao (IFFAM), which took place in December, was an early pandemic casualty and unlikely to return.
In China, Beijing International Film Festival (August 13-20) and First International Film Festival, Xining (July 27-August 4), came and went this summer with nary a whisper from international press as no foreign journalists were able to attend. Pingyao International Film Festival, which like First, Xining, has grown into a crucial platform for Chinese independent cinema, is also likely to be a purely domestic event. Hainan Island International Film Festival is attempting a return in December although the tropical island province is at the tail end of battling an Omicron outbreak that has seen thousands of holidaymakers stranded (frustrating, but there are probably worse places to be trapped).
Middle East, India and Southeast Asia all have their own festival ecosystems and I’ll be reporting on them soon. For sure, the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa and industry platform Film Bazaar are planning a physical return in November. Below are dates for some of the major events in Asia, to be updated in coming weeks:
- Busan International Film Festival, October 5-14
- Asian Contents & Film Market (ACFM) , October 8-11
- Pingyao International Film Festival, October 11-18
- Tokyo International Film Festival, October 24 – November 2
- TIFFCOM Online, October 25-27
- International Film Festival of India (IFFI), November 20-28
- Film Bazaar, November 20-24
THIS WEEK IN THE TRADES:
LAB & FUNDING NEWS:
OR NOT CANCELLED AS THE CASE MAY BE: Korean Film Figures Condemn Venice for Honoring Kim Ki-duk Despite Sexual Abuse Allegations
TO BE RELEASED IN CHINA OR NOT?? THAT IS THE QUESTION: ‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ Footage Screened For China Film Group With Surprise Greeting From James Cameron