The Week at ATF


The 20th edition of the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF) wrapped in Singapore last week with more than 5,700 attendees from 60 territories, marking a 5-percent increase from the 2018 edition.

The overarching theme of this year’s event was “Streaming the Future,” with digital platforms having a significant presence at the market, including Youku, Hoichoi, HOOQ, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Viu.

“ATF has cemented itself as a must-attend in the international media and entertainment world’s calendar of events,” Yeh Chien Ee, president for the Asia Pacific at Reed Exhibitions, said at ATF’s opening ceremony on Wednesday.

Ahead of the market’s official kick-off, the ATF Leaders’ Summit opened with a keynote address by Dr. Gong Yu, the founder and CEO of the leading Chinese OTT service, iQiyi. The platform had 105 million paid members as of Q3 this year, Gong said. Between free and pay, the platform streams 350 million hours a day.

“Some consider us as the Netflix of China,” Gong said. “That is not accurate,” he said, explaining that iQiyi is more of a hybrid of Netflix, Hulu and YouTube business models. What also makes iQiyi distinctive, he went on to say, is the platform’s diversity of revenue models. Original content has become increasingly important to iQiyi, Gong continued, especially as prices for licensed content continue to rise. “Original content is a must because we can control our costs and our users are much younger [than traditional TV audiences]—they don’t want to just see content moved from TV and films to our platform. They have different needs.” More than a third of iQiyi’s content investments are in originals and this is set to rise.

Giorgio Stock, the president of distribution and ad sales for EMEA and AsiaPac at WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks, also delivered a keynote during the ATF Leaders’ Summit. He discussed the consolidation of the HBO and Turner businesses in the region and the importance of franchise management. Across the portfolio, a key focus has been on making sure the brands live on all the platforms consumers are engaging with today in linear and digital, particularly at Cartoon Network. “And it’s about doubling down on local content,” Stock said. HBO Asia, for example, has doubled its slate of original content in the region.

On the potential in AsiaPac, Stock said, “We have very fertile ground on which to build,” given the level at which the company’s brands resonate with audiences in the region. “Across the board, I see a spirit of enterprise, [a large] youth demographic, a propensity to use technology and an aspiration for a better tomorrow. That creates an amazing opportunity for us.”

Stock also addressed WarnerMedia’s streaming strategy for AsiaPac, which at present includes authenticated apps for its linear channel brands as well as the continued expansion of HBO GO as a standalone service. Of note, last week HBO GO announced its rollout in the Philippines as a standalone OTT service.

In other streaming news, Viu unveiled its latest scripted-format-based original series, Black, based on a Korean drama, and HOOQ announced a pact with IMDA to co-fund productions. That deal with the Southeast Asian streamer is part of a raft of talent initiatives unveiled by Singapore’s IMDA last week. “Singapore is well placed to play a catalytic role in the growth of Asia’s media ecosystem, particularly in Southeast Asia,” S Iswaran, Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, noted. “And beyond our traditional role as a business, financial and technology hub, Singapore’s media ecosystem is vibrant and growing.”

In a bid to promote international alliances, IMDA inked partnerships with CJ ENM Hong Kong, HOOQ, Tencent/VS Media and Viacom International Media Networks. “We are pivoting away from ‘Made by Singapore’ to ‘Made with Singapore’ in three important areas: content, financing and talent,” Iswaran said.

IMDA is also setting aside S$20 million in its call for media fund partners to jointly support projects. “We have embarked on a series of initiatives on developing the market, developing our talent, and supporting the evolution of the financial aspects of the industry,” Iswaran said. “The convergence in tech and media is undeniable and unrelenting—but it is opening up new markets, enabling disruptive models and fueling demand for new content through digital channels. In these exciting times, I want to encourage everyone to think Asia, and think Singapore. Content producers and digital platforms are pivoting more decisively towards the East; many of them building on earlier successful ventures with Asian talent and companies. Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, has much to offer the rest of the world beyond just being a market. I invite the world and industry players to discover the exciting voices of Asian storytellers and also our diverse talent—both off-screen and on-screen.”

Leading Singaporean content-creation company Mediacorp, meanwhile, inked a deal to co-produce two Chinese-language titles with ViuTV and unveiled the first title to emerge from its alliance with Wattpad.

While the Asian scripted business dominated headlines at ATF, the region remains a vibrant one for international drama acquisitions. Of note, all3media international announced a Japanese deal on Fleabag last week, with the acclaimed British series headed to WOWOW together with Liar and Baptiste.

In the non-scripted space, meanwhile, Passion Distribution landed an Indian slot for Dynamo: Beyond Belief, in addition to closing a raft of other deals in the region. The popular magician traveled to Singapore for ATF to launch the new series. And Nippon TV announced a partnership with The Story Lab to co-develop non-scripted formats for the international market.

On the kids’ front, several leading buyers weighed in on trends in the market during an ATF panel, including Hopster’s Nick Walters, Amazon Prime Video India’s Vijay Subramaniam, WarnerMedia’s Leslie Lee and Vivek Bhutyani of Lattu Kids.

“We’ve seen two significant shifts as it relates to content,” said Amazon’s Subramaniam. “The sheer convenience of programming now, especially in the nonlinear world. Given that most kids are digital natives, born into this digital environment, makes it super interesting to tell stories that are super specific, that have great identity and great inspiration. You’re no longer conforming to the traditional norms of ratings. Linear television pushed a certain kind of storytelling because it was ratings-led. [On digital] you can cater to various communities of kids and bring on these stories, unburdened in terms of duration, format, animation style. Now, more than ever, there’s a huge opportunity to tell really authentic stories to kids and not worry about the mainstream or will this find an audience of 5-year-olds as well as 9-year-olds. This is the new normal.”

For Lee at WarnerMedia, one of the biggest changes in content has been episode durations. “Five years ago, we were dealing with the traditional 22-minute, 11-minute format. These days, you don’t have to stay in that format anymore.” The other key trend, he said, is kids’ response to production qualities. “Kids are watching quirky, interesting formats, genres. It doesn’t have to be high quality, as long as it’s well-told, funny and engaging. They can get user-generated content on YouTube, quality doesn’t matter to them, it’s about engagement.”

Walters talked about Hopster’s emphasis on content with educational values. “We want to help kids learn through the stories they love. We have a strong learning mission. We think there’s going to be a split between generalist SVOD—Netflix, Amazon—the big store where you can get everything and very specific. Digital lets producers unshackle themselves from formats. It’s much more important for us to have something that really drives our mission and supports our mission and that our users are going to care about than it is to have something a mass audience will be OK with. We want things that will resonate deeply with our audience.”

Lattu Kids is also a learning platform, Bhutyani noted, geared to children 3 to 8 in India and Southeast Asia. “We are seeing huge consumption of content on smartphones. Kids are consuming content for the first time on smartphones. Some of these kids don’t have access to a television in the home but they have a smartphone. Kids want interactivity, they want to interact with the characters as they watch and learn at the same time.”

The latest entrant in the Indian kids’ OTT space, VOOT Kids, announced a deal for a slate of CBeebies shows last week.

The week also saw projects from China, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia win the animation, Chinese-language and formats pitches at ATF.

The next edition of ATF is slated to take place from December 1 to 4, 2020, in Singapore.