In preparation for the 23rd edition of the Asia TV Forum and Market (ATF), VideoAge connected with Singapore-based Justin Deimen, executive director of the Southeast Asian Audio-Visual Association (SAAVA), and president of 108 Media, to talk about what he expects to find at the Singapore market, which is set for December 7-9, 2022.

This year’s edition is the first fully in-person ATF event since 2019 — before the pandemic. Last year’s ATF managed to have an in-person component (but was mostly held online), although it was limited to the opening day’s activities, which took place (as it will again this year) at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center on December 1. Attendance was by invitation only. There was a free, on-site COVID-19 testing facility there, and foreign participants had to abide by Singapore’s quarantine requirements, which are no longer in play. Some 200 in-person participants attended ATF 2021 — primarily from Singapore — and they basically listened to speeches that day.

Asia TV Forum’s theme remains “Content is Still King.” The fact that the ATF relies heavily on the forum portion of the event has always been known to all, and this year is no exception. Seventy-one speakers will be walking to the podium this year. On opening day, December 7, 2022, some 15 speakers will be making presentations and, according to an ATF press release, they “will include visionary speakers from TikTok, Vidio, Mediacorp, Wavve, [and] Studio LuluLala.”

Exhibitors at the three-day event include companies such as as A+E Networks, All3Media, GMA, Kanal D, Lionsgate, Paramount, and TelevisaUnivision.

VideoAge: What is the mood in the South East Asian (SEA) TV community?

Justin Deimen: The new mood essentially boils down to being optimistic about new frontiers but cautious of legacy practices.

The pandemic didn’t slow production down as much as expected but it did reconfigure thought processes. The reliance on local and regional commissioners has cooled, with more independently minded producers looking outwards for new opportunities and collaborations and finally dipping their toes into co-producing with the current support of government incentives creating more gateways.

The push into understanding rights issues and having a hands-on management of that part of the work has become more salient as regional producers are looking to create their own output with new buyers instead of handing over world rights after production to sales companies, and they have become more cognizant of their ownership over productions instead of selling them off cheaply early in the financing process.

VA: What has changed since 2019?

JD: Somewhere in the crowd someone is screaming, “Commissioning budgets!” But in all seriousness, the biggest change is the understanding of diversity elements in creative projects and knowing that Asian producers can be the vanguard in pushing diverse, global stories into the international pop culture arena. This has moved the ball into focusing on strategic packaging, deeper creative development, and more financial/creative co-productions with established players in more mature markets to align local/regional content with the rest of the world.

VA: Is there some anxiety, or do executives seem to be relaxed?

JD: Today, there’s definitely more fear and anxiety among the executive ranks of the industry given the existential issues facing capital markets. The consolidation of media assets across the world stage has a slower but no less definitive ripple effect into Asia, hence internal attitudes are seeping into the business. Decisions are slower to be made, innovative deals are being paused in order to not rock any boats, previous content strategy decisions are not confidently being followed through due to constant reversals of plans, and many executives are looking towards the next stages of their careers and becoming independents themselves, hence there’s a gap in experience and leadership on corporate levels.

VA: Asian airlines did not want to fly over Russian air space (therefore increasing the time it took to fly to Europe for markets such as MIPCOM). Will that mean more Asian buyers at ATF?

JD: There’s always been a great showing of Asian buyers at ATF — it’s the market of choice for Asian buyers in the calendar year because that’s where their bread gets buttered. What ATF represents is the gateway to the rest of the world’s content in December, capping off the year. In fact, I believe, given that it’s still considered a transitional year due to the pandemic, many fringe Asian buyers have held off on trips to the rest of the world in 2022, so if they had a choice, ATF would indeed be the one market they can’t and won’t miss due to its proximity to them.

VA: Asians are traditionally more adept with technology. Are they happy to go back to in-person meetings or are they more comfortable with virtual meetings?

JD: Not all Asians [are good with technology]! It’s still a social game at the end of the day. We love bringing our friends to our favorite haunts and drinking holes, with some karaoke and family discussions thrown into our business dealings. So yes, the in-person meetings have been something everyone has been planning and looking forward to. In fact, my company, 108 Media will be using ATF to bring in upwards of 10 colleagues from our global offices in Tokyo, Toronto, London, and L.A., with some of us meeting for the first time.

Justin Deimen is group managing partner of Aurora Global Media Capital, executive director of SAAVA, co-founder of SEA Film Financing Forum, co-organizer of Screen Singapore, and president of 108 Media.   

The Singapore-headquartered Southeast Asian Audio-Visual Association (SAAVA) is a non-profit association founded in 2014 that seeks to unify media producers in the SE Asian region that counts a population of more than 650 million and a robust growing economy. Its members include producers, financiers, directors, distributors, and exhibitors from the film, TV, and digital media sectors.

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