Coming two months after MIPCOM and just a little over a month before NATPE, could MIP’ Asia be market overkill?
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Wedged in at the end of the year, at a time when budgets are exhausted, little new product is ready to be unveiled and people are thinking about holiday shopping rather than shopping programs, MIP’ Asia isn’t at the top of the list for major Hollywood studios. But are the big players like Warner Bros., Fox and Paramount correct in not sending their armies of salespeople to Hong Kong?
The fourth annual MIP’ Asia, which will be held from December 4 to 6, may be the weaker cousin of the behemoth markets MIP-TV and MIPCOM, but the event continues to evolve as one of the most important markets for Asian companies to do business among themselves.
So why should Western companies bother to attend?
‘The value of MIP’ Asia is that it allows you to follow up on business just done on MIPCOM and to meet people from smaller territories that can’t afford or don’t have time to go to MIP,’ says Louise Brown, director of international program sales for Discovery Communications.
For Western companies that do attend, MIP’ Asia presents an opportunity to build relationships with Eastern partners in a less chaotic atmosphere than the dizzying and often delirious feeding frenzy found at the French markets.
In 1994, the first MIP’ Asia drew 3,082 participants representing 1,327 companies from 59 countries. There was a significant falloff in 1995, and the number of attendees leveled off to just over 2,200 from over 1,000 companies in the following two years. Reed Midem, the organizer of the event, expects similar numbers for this year’s market.
While the number of participants may have leveled off, the majority of the activity has shifted to intra-Asian business, with Western companies getting the leftovers, albeit, a healthy plate of leftovers. What was first thought of as a West-meets-East market has turned more into an East-meets-East situation. In 1996, nearly half (169 of 365) of the exhibiting companies came from the Pacific Rim, a 48 percent increase from 1995.
The absence of the majors enhances the opportunities for smaller companies to establish relationships with the growing number of broadcast outlets available in Asia. The increase of satellite and cable services in the region is creating opportunities that previously did not exist in such countries as Japan, Singapore and China, while new markets such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are just beginning to mature.
If MIP’ Asia is evolving as a Pan-Asian market, how vital is it to Westerners?
‘When the first MIP’ Asia happened, it was a good focus to see everyone in one place and one market,’ says Louis Fournier, vice president of distribution and marketing for Canadian-based Cinar Films. ‘The sense of continuity and relationship, which is so important to doing business in Asia, is built on us attending MIP’ Asia as well as touring the region.’
Most major studios already have offices in key Asian territories and meet with Asian buyers and broadcasters on a fairly regular basis. And many companies that don’t have offices see many of these people at other markets. The majority of companies attending MIP’ Asia don’t have new programs to present. Most shows either were announced at MIPCOM or are being readied for NATPE.
Hearst Entertainment’s Tom Devlin, senior vice president of international sales, has attended every MIP’ Asia and believes that the market has grown weaker over the years. ‘There are too many markets. When you see clients four or five times a year, that really covers it, unless your library is so vast that you need to travel to the territory more often because you have so much to sell.’ Hearst is not taking a booth this year, although Devlin will walk the floor. MIP’ Asia has been scheduled as part of a longer trip to visit his clients in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Attendance and visibility make an impression on the Asian buyers. ‘It’s very important that the Asian buyers see us on their territory and that it’s not always them coming to the West,’ says Julie Fox, director of sales and acquisitions for French-based Marina Productions.
Jesper Helbrandt, managing director of ITE in Denmark, agrees. ‘MIP’ Asia is a young market compared to NATPE, MIPCOM and MIP-TV, but we believe that it will grow and we want to grow together with the market.’ Helbrandt believes that in order to be taken seriously as a business partner in the region, you have to be there, which is why ITE will be opening a satellite office in Japan in 1998.
Gaumont’s vice president of international television sales, Mickie Steinmann, believes that from a business point of view, MIP’ Asia offers limited opportunity for his company, but what he does get out of it is quality time with clients. ‘It’s more relaxed. You seem to have more time to spend talking about future projects and your current library,’ he says.
Others see MIP’ Asia as a chance to wrap up the sales year. ‘This will be my final opportunity to sell things,’ says Colin Mendoza, director of sales at Sunbow Entertainment. ‘As an independent, you don’t want to miss any opportunities.’
Australian-based production house Southern Star had contemplated not returning to MIP’ Asia this year. Southern Star has been doing business with Asian broadcasters for 25 years and is a pioneer in establishing co-production agreements with companies in Japan and China. ‘The reason we’ve come back is that not only has it been a good place to tie up deals that have been pending since MIPCOM, but we’ve been quite surprised at the amount of new business we’ve done,’ says Catherine Nebauer, Southern Star’s sales executive for Asia and the Middle East.
Also returning is Nickelodeon, which did not participate in last year’s market because it was concentrating its efforts on launching its Latin American service in late 1996. ‘MIP’ Asia isn’t like the other MIPs in that you’re not coming home with a full plate of deals. It’s more about establishing new relationships with channels that I don’t even know about, and strengthening existing relationships because I can spend more time with buyers that I don’t see more than two or three times a year,’ says Debbie Back, vice president of international program sales for Nickelodeon.
Given their druthers, many MIP’ Asia attendees would like to see the market scheduled for a different time of the year. However, the already packed schedule of worldwide markets makes finding a new home for a MIP’ Asia difficult.
Companies that believe skipping MIP’ Asia won’t make a difference in total sales to the region should keep in mind the mantra that most sales executives repeat when asked about the the keys to doing business with Asian territories-have patience, respect and perseverance with Asian clients. Those qualities are important building blocks to establishing long-term relationships. Companies not willing to make the effort to meet with Asian clients now, while the young markets are bubbling, may discover that as these markets mature and license fees increase, perhaps they will need Asia.
But will Asia need them?