By Patrick Frater
A lively panel discussion on distribution heard Asian films described both as a minority taste and as having a bright future in new markets.
Speaking at the Tuesday finance conference at ScreenSingapore, Michael J Werner (溫煦宇), chairman of sales agency Fortissimo Films, called Asian films “a subset of a niche” and said that the worldwide theatrical market for Asian film has fallen in recent years. “We need to find new outlets,” he said.
Milt Barlow, head of China Lion Film Distribution, said his company, which is releasing Chinese films on close to a day-and-date basis in North America and Australasia, has acted as a catalyst for the revival of theatrical distribution of Asian films in the U.S. “Our approach is to reach Chinese audiences who live outside China,” he said. Other U.S. distribution companies including Grindhouse and Well Go USA, have responded by moving into theatrical distribution from their roots in DVD releasing and are acquiring Asian titles.
Zhang Zhao (張昭, pictured right), head of LETV Pictures Co Ltd (樂視娛樂投資（北京）有限公司), the film production arm of a large Chinese online video company, turned the discussion to the online distribution. “The internet has changed the world and is changing the film industry,” he said. “If we only think in theatrical terms we will not change.”
Zhang told the audience that China’s growing online video distribution sector has overtaken conventional home entertainment and TV to become the largest ancillary market for film and the second largest revenue source for film after theatrical. He said that his parent company is now regularly paying $1 million for online rights to popular Chinese films.
“In China these days, films of all genres have an opportunity and the battle between old and new media is good for distribution,” Zhang said, adding: “There is no censorship and no quotas on Chinese Internet releases, though sooner or later that will come.”
William Pfeiffer (pictured left), head of Tiger Gate Entertainment, which spans film and television, said that Asian audiences are not exposed and not used to seeing a wide range of films from other parts of Asia. But he too sees Internet distribution as potentially changing that. “People will sample more online and on-demand,” he said, likening film to music, where young people navigate online space more easily than older generations.
Werner said that while his company will continue to fight for a piece of the limited “shelf space” for Asian and art-house films, more experimentation and variation is needed. “HBO used to screen pictures on pay-TV before moving some of them to theatrical if demand warranted it.”