TBI speaks to the international content companies that attended the ninth edition of the Busan Contents Market and the organisers of the South Korean market
Busan Contents Market wants to establish itself as the number one programming market in Asia, says Jong Sang Koo, chairman of the event’s executive committee and media professor at Dongseo University. Today, international buyers and sellers agree it trails December’s ATF in Singapore in that respect, and there is also healthy competition from another Korean event, BCWW, in Seoul in September.
For many international firms it is an either/or situation with two trips to South Korean programming markets hard to justify, and several told TBI they will alternate between the two. “A lot of people talk about the competition between BCM and BCWW and have suggested they alternate; it is difficult to send peope to Korea,” one senior sales exec told TBI.
In the past there was talk of BCM and BCWW merging, but that now seems unlikely. So, why prioritise Busan, Korea’s second-largest city, a couple of hours travel from the capital of Seoul?
The backing of the local authorities means that BCM can subsidise flights and accommodation for sellers, a perk usually reserved for buyers, which takes a large chunk of the cost out of the trip. The market is, however, run on commercial lines, and the organisers told TBI it recorded a Won90 million (US$80,000) profit last year.
It should deliver more this year after organisers started charging for a spot on the convention floor – Won2 million (US$1,850) for a basic exhibition space with the likes of Korean broadcaster KBS taking multiple slots. A space in the table and chairs Participant’s Lounge commanded a Won1 million fee.
“People think there is a lot of similarity between the two, but they are totally different,” says Jong Sang Koo. “Before booths were complementary, but now we charge and attendance is still up. It is getting bigger and making more profit. One [market] might fail and one succeed, but we will stick to our business plan.”
International distributors in town included Poland’s TVN, Off the Fence, Israel’s Keshet International, Disney Media DIstribution, ITV Studios Global Entertainment, France’s Upside Distribution and Scandinavia-based Eccho Rights among others. Red Arrow International, Endemol Shine International, Terranoa, Lagardere and NBCUniversal International Television Distribution all set up shop in the Participant’s Lounge.
In general footfall was light in the mornings, picking up in the afternoons – the local attractions of the beach and the world’s largest shopping mall perhaps a distraction (one sales exec told TBI their last meeting had postponed to hit the Shinsegae shopping centre).
If the jury is out among the international companies regarding the volume of deals actually done at BCM, it is a hugely important and productive market for the Korean broadcasters and their sales arms, says Alex Oe, the former CJ E&M executive who has just joined US indie studio Legendary to fire up its Asian TV business.
He likens an international company attending Busan to a Korean company heading to an event such as NATPE Europe – good for contact building, although not necessarily a place where numerous deals are inked.
Factual sells into Korea with science, some travel and military programming popular (the Military Channel has a tender out).
“It’s a good opportunity to meet people who can’t come to MIP,” said Upside Distribution sales manager Arianna Castoldi.
The French firm was shopping its MIPTV doc hit Ø Gravity, A Mission in Space, which Castoldi told TBI has been acquired by Japanese pubcaster NHK in the wake of being the most-screened show and red carpet launch at MIPDoc in April.
“We also came to explore opportunities outside of working with KBS and EBS,” said Castoldi. “There are a lot of pay TV channels in Korea and we thought we could meet them here, but you have to work with a lot of distributors or agents.”
TCB Media Rights was also in town. It has recently shopped a package of shows including Wicked Inventions and What on Earth? to Discovery Networks International and is also working with National Geographic Channels International and local channels in Asia. Sales manager Mem Baker said there were buyers from a lot of the smaller channels in attendance that might not make the trip to Cannes in April or October.
Often reaching these channels involves, as Upside’s Castoldi noted, working with a local rep or distributor, and they were often accompanying the Asian buyers at BCM. One issue for the smaller Korean channels is that, in challenging economic times, already declining advertising revenues are being hovered up by the big boys and the budget for international acquisitions is declining or non-existent.
In a tough economic period for Korea and the Haeundae district that includes Busan, BCM’s Jong Sang Koo said that one of the organisation’s goals is to help stimulate the local economy and provide jobs in the media sector.
To that end it is working on international job exchanges and placements. It has also teamed with MIP organisers Reed Midem, and the MIP Academy had an educational and conference strand with the likes of Zodiak Media and FremantleMedia giving local producers key information on how to make their content international-friendly, and how to break into markets outside Korea.
Off the Fence, meanwhile, recently struck a deal with Turner’s new Asian World Heritage Channel for a package of content.
Sales manager Gerbrig Blanksma was at BCM and noted that buyers from Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Pakistan were in town, while Scripps Networks International was one of the pan-regionals that made the trip. “Korea is a country where you have to build a relationship before the buyers want to work with you. We also want to find out which local distributors we should be working with,” said Blanksma.
As well as selling into Korea and other Asian markets, international attendees also wanted to buy. In the case of Eccho Rights, Korean drama was on the shopping list.
Gary Pudney, the company’s head of Asia, who recently sold Turkish drama comedy Cherry Season to several Asian broadcasters, is looking for Korean scripted formats that can head back to Turkey, where, he says, there is a new-found and unmet demand for lighter, female-oriented drama, a genre in which Korean producers are well versed.
“BCM is definitely a venue where you can talk to people and we’re looking for scripted, where Korea, like Turkey, is a powerhouse. But Turkey has exhausted its supply domestically and Korea has drama [formats] that they don’t have there. We also want to look at drama from Japan although there is an issue there of short seasons of eight-to-ten episodes where in Korea they can get to fifty or sixty.”
In terms of Korean drama formats, one rumour at BCM was of a local version of HBO’s Warner Bros.-distributed drama series Entourage.
Keshet’s sales director Kelly Wright was also scouting for drama. “We are looking for Korean drama that can be remade in the US, it is one of the territories we are mining and taking international rights,” she said. “We have six shows in the US and have become a niche importer of foreign drama into the US.”
BCM said there were more than 2,000 participants this year, which compares with about 1,400 in 2014 (from 558 companies and 45 countries). Next year, Jong Sang Koo has big plans to mark the tenth anniversary of the market. Mobile will be a big focus.
“We are in a mobile era, so we will have a focus on mobile content next year,” she says. “We need to follow market trends and the big trend is mobile so we will create streams and a system to cover that.”