The Chinese film industry must address the embarrassing gap between its prosperous market and underdeveloped production

By Chen Changye Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/29 19:18:40

A cellphone displays Baidu's ticket-selling app for Ip Man 3, which has an 8.5/10 on the app. Photo: IC


A display for Furious 7 Photo: IC

Due to the success of China's three Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, the country's Internet industry has won respect from around the globe, leading many in the industry feeling that China has overtaken other countries and regions when it comes to the mobile Internet.

While it's true that when it comes to services such as mobile payments, home delivery, online ticket purchasing or bike shares, the US is not developing as fast as China.  

However, Chinese companies still have a long road ahead.

For instance, in the mobile phone industry, Xiao Mi, Huawei, and Oppo have taken turns dominating the domestic market. However, the operating systems for their phones were not developed in China but overseas. 

A similar situation exists when it comes to the Chinese film industry. On one hand, it has benefited from the mobile Internet. On the other hand, its ability to produce films that bring in audiences is lacking.

Embarrassing situation

Over 70 percent of movie tickets are now purchased online in China, while the top 10 Chinese film chains sell 80 percent of their tickets through the Internet. This far surpasses online ticket purchases in the US. Over the past two to three years, the annual Chinese mainland box office has surged from 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) to 45 billion yuan. This growth is in part due to the convenience online ticketing has brought customers, but also due to the large amount of promotions held by ticket sellers. The problem is that the low ticket prices brought about by these promotions led to the economic bubble in the film industry in 2016.

Similarly, the service charge for online purchases will also be counted as part of total box-office revenue. This "innovation" in online ticket sales will create the illusion that demand in the market is greater than ever. 

Yet the fact is that while China produces more than 700 films a year, few have been able to stand out from the crowd in March. Instead the Chinese market was completely dominated by imported films.

A similar situation is seen in the TV industry.

When it comes to user coverage, penetration and the number of paying users, China's major streaming platforms can stand on equal footing with the US' major streaming companies. However, when comparing content available, no matter if we look at a single hit drama or a number of popular works, we cannot say with confidence that China does things better.

This is an embarrassing situation.

One-way street

Keeping pace when it comes to technical proficiency is also an issue.

Currently China's e-commerce industry is gaining an increasing amount of capital investments, while traditional manufacturing and industry is experiencing a difficult time. This inability for traditional industries to grow side by side with Internet industries has been a source of embarrassment for moguls in the manufacturing industry; which is why these leading figures in traditional industries sought to criticize Jack Ma Yun, founder of Alibaba, during the two sessions held in early March. 

The Chinese film industry faces a similarly embarrassing situation.

When experts talk about developing the Chinese film industry, they seldom spend time dwelling on the Chinese studios ability to produce quality films. This is an area where China falls far behind other countries.

What happens then when we open the doors to our market if our own ability to produce films is poor?

Hollywood comes to work with us with enthusiasm, but we end up getting the short stick in the relationship. We probably never expected that US-China coproduced films would provide a channel for Hollywood to take a bigger piece of the pie that is the Chinese market, while joint ventures such as Oriental DreamWorks would end up failing.

In the end, Hollywood takes a lot from China, but we do not gain much in return.

The increasing size of the Chinese film market should not blind the industry to its failings when it comes to production. Before we focus our efforts on films that appeal to a global audience, we should first concentrate on our own domestic audience.

The author is an industry insider and founder of the blog Inyou Insight.

Newspaper headline: The elephant in the room

Posted in: FILM

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