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Film, Media View Asia as Key Market

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Executives from the film and media industries said Tuesday that they have found fertile markets in the booming nations of Asia, but they counseled would-be entrepreneurs to go slow, find influential local partners and learn the culture.

Otherwise, they might find the going tough or run afoul of unfamiliar customs, the executives said at a conference, “California Business in Asia,” sponsored by the Asia Society’s Southern California Center and held at Times Mirror Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times.

“It is really critical that Asian markets really be exploited in a way that suits everybody,” said David I. Weil, an international entertainment lawyer with O’Melveny & Myers.

All agreed that Southern California’s entertainment and media industries must crack Asian markets if they are to survive.

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“Our economics do not work without an Asian partner,” said Peter J. Dekom, another entertainment lawyer who is developing projects of his own.

Dekom said the nature of such alliances has changed. Instead of finding a partner in each of several nations, it is now more effective to ally oneself with a powerful regional company, which can then seek secondary partnerships in each country.

Robert L. Vallone, who heads Asia operations for the United Artists theater chain, said a local partner is essential in building multiplex theaters in nations where they are uncommon.

Asian landlords tend to prefer retail first and offices second; “We’re very far down on the food chain,” he said.

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A familiarity with the culture has helped CBS try to meet some of the exploding demand for programming in Asian nations where cable and satellite television has taken off, said Yuet-Fung Ho, director of international sales at CBS Broadcast International.

That’s how she knows that programs such as “Walker: Texas Ranger” will sell and sitcoms will not. Moreover, she said, “It’s not exactly possible to have one feed for all of Asia.” Different places like different shows.

In some markets, CBS is experimenting with licensing formats of its programs. One example: Locally produced Chinese-language versions of “60 Minutes” are now playing well in Hong Kong and Taiwan, she said.

But Thai communications magnate Sondhi Limthongkul, publisher of several Asian newspapers and majority owner of Buzz magazine in Los Angeles, assailed what he called the “cultural imperialism” of Western media products now inundating Asia.

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“Western media companies have finally awakened to the high potential of the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “But . . . most have . . . taken advantage of the high demand for programming by simply dumping Western programming, instead of making joint regional or local productions. . . . It is also a shame that some Asians have sold their souls to the West.”

He added, “I have this passionate conviction that an Asian voice is needed to offset Western media.”


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