You might have watched the famous Hollywood feature film Charlie's Angels or the top children's animation series Jackie Chan Adventures sitting comfortably in your armchair in front of the television at home. However, the people behind the scenes distributing these top-notch productions have to spend months, if not years, negotiating a deal with broadcasters. And, when their efforts are rewarded and the shows appear on screen before millions of viewers, their success helps drive distributors to work even harder on another round of new releases.
As licensing manager, Asia for Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) Annie Yim is one of the few Hollywood film distributors for local and Asia region TV stations. A leader in its field, SPTI has distribution deals with broadcast clients around the world, offering a wide selection of products, including 4,000 feature films and timeless classics.
"In deciding to which TV stations we should distribute a popular film, we have to consider many factors, not just the monetary one," Ms Yim notes. "While we have to make every station happy, we also need to achieve our business objectives. All this calls for good organisational skills plus the ability to analyse clients' priorities and their special needs. You must also be bilingual, even trilingual, in both written and oral forms, outgoing and easy to communicate with."
Because the television industry is subject to rapid change and competition is so keen, before negotiating with clients, it is important for film distributors to understand what is happening in the market and know what their competitors are doing. To keep abreast of world and local events, Ms Yim regularly reads newspapers, features, magazines, and trade publications. She must also maintain regular dialogue with people within her business circles and be ready to impart to potential clients her knowledge of the company's film products and their relevant box-office statistics and ratings. This is all part of a leading film distributor's daily routine. Ms Yim also has to be strongly aware of political and economic changes. "This is essential," she says, "as they could affect TV sponsorship and ratings."
In the film distribution industry, you have to work hard and work smart
But she views her role as a giving, not just a receiving one. Ms Yim must help create special needs or events for TV stations, all of which should be receptive to new ideas. Her biggest challenge, she says, is the trend in local productions. To tie in with this, Sony Pictures Asia film production division also produces Asian movies such as the upcoming Kung Fu Hustle.
The colourful side of Ms Yim's dynamic work is that she makes regular business trips within Asia to meet broadcast clients and to Los Angeles to keep up with the latest information together with regional colleagues in the US. Every April and October, she flies to Cannes for the MIPTV and MIPCOM film fairs which cater to TV broadcasters and film distributors. These "must-go" events in France are prime opportunities to explore business opportunities and network with potential clients.
The most rewarding part of the job for Ms Yim is that, through tough business negotiations, she has learned how to polish her communication skills and think more strategically. All this can be applied to, and improve, her daily life. She derives great job satisfaction from seeing her company's productions featured on television before millions of viewers, where they receive good ratings and attract advertising as a result of close teamwork and dedication.
Ms Yim, a graduate of the City University of Hong Kong's International Business Studies faculty, worked in various media-related jobs before joining SPTI three years ago. She was an acquisitions and sales executive for an in-flight entertainment company, then marketing manager for a media internet company. Ms Yim also gained good experience as a sales and marketing executive for an international news agency, selling news and TV programmes to broadcasters and production companies.
The film licensing executive's profession requires a university degree and strong language skills in Chinese, English and Putonghua. "In the film distribution industry, you have to work hard and work smart," says Ms Yim.
Someone starting in the profession may first be a sales co-ordinator carrying out duties such as arranging screenings for TV stations and maintaining a client base to learn how the business operates. In Hong Kong, there are hundreds of film distribution companies, most relatively small. Salaries for film distributors vary from company to company and are often pegged to the size of the business.
Ms Yim sees many potential developments in her career amid growing changes in media technology. Media platforms, such as digital TV, satellite TV and IP base delivery are growing, so programming content will be in great demand. Also, to serve diversified audience tastes, film producers will need to offer more choices for viewers by producing more creative formats, local TV dramas and game shows.
With China steadily opening up to the world, there are ample opportunities for Hong Kong film distributors to establish businesses on the mainland because there are TV channels broadcasting in many provinces. This, of course, bodes well for those seeking careers in the film distribution field. But they will have to cope, at least currently, with the stricter censorship and quotas imposed by mainland authorities. It will also be a challenge for overseas film distributors if there is a restricted timeslot for foreign programming since broadcast revenues for such timeslots can be relatively small.
As local Chinese productions are well received in the mainland market, there may, at first, be relatively little room for foreign film distributors to conduct big business deals there. Film distributors in China know their own people's culture and are in a better position to communicate with TV broadcasters, compared with those from Hong Kong or elsewhere, and this may also present a challenge.