Film and television insiders from Hollywood and China gathered in Los Angeles at Asia Society’s U.S.-China Film Summit last week to discuss trends in China’s rapidly developing film and TV industries solidifying the fact that the China film and television market has finally arrived and is here to stay.
Interest in China’s film and television market has reached fever pitch in the United States, as the market continues to surpass 30 percent annual growth and remains on track to overcome American box office revenues in just three years. Adding fuel to the fire are recent Hollywood deals such as Dalian Wanda’s purchase of AMC and a $1.2 billion property in Beverly Hills, and a trip by Alibaba’s Jack Ma to discuss a potential major U.S. studio partnership.
Being a relatively new film and television industry, Chinese insiders are looking to Hollywood for collaboration and opportunities as homegrown creative talent develops and audience preferences mature and change. Seasoned by decades of successfully creating films and television shows with global appeal, many of Hollywood’s elite now look to tailor content to appeal directly to the Chinese market. Typically, this entails changes in themes, casting, formats, and dialogue to cater to Chinese audience tastes.
Facing such a new and rapidly evolving audience, both sides are trying to figure out: What do Chinese audiences want? While that question remains to be answered, a few trends have emerged about what is working with Chinese audiences:
U.S. Television Shows: Chinese audiences started binge-watching American TV shows before audiences in the U.S. via pirated DVDs of titles such as Friends, Sex and the City, and Gossip Girl. Today, Chinese audiences watch American shows legally on online video streaming sites, but this has not decreased the appetite for popular American shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Vampire Diaries, and Two Broke Girls. With U.S. film releases limited by import quotas and lacking the Hollywood marketing machine in China, episodic TV series are typically more popular in China than movies, as they allow the audience to get to know the characters and fall in love with the series.
Korean Drama: Korean dramas are wildly popular in China. The hit series My Love from Another Star racked up more than 2.5 billion streams in three months on iQiyi, and ABC has announced that it will be adapting the show for the U.S. market. The show has not only generated billions of views, but it has also led to food, fashion, and book crazes in China as fans seek to buy everything featured in the show. Korean drama Heirs has also seen widespread success, and has taken its concept on the road to film an entire season in California.
Travel: Chinese are discovering tourism en masse and having an enormous global impact, overtaking Germans as the top spending tourists worldwide in 2013. As a result, travel-themed shows such as the upcoming Chinese Amazing Race (featuring celebrities), and tourism-themed movies Lost in Thailand and Finding Mr. Right have achieved major box office success. In addition, the reality show Baba Qu Nar created a big win for the New Zealand Tourism Board when more than 400 million viewers across China tuned in for season two of the show, featuring 217 minutes of Chinese celebrities traveling around New Zealand.
Big-Budget Hollywood Films: Top-grossing American films typically consist of big-budget action films such as Transformers and Avatar. However, the nearly two-decade-old Titanic still ranks as one of the top 10 earning films in China, largely due to the fascination with the love story in the film.
Chinese Comedy: While Hollywood has not yet found a successful way to translate comedy to the China market, it is clear that comedy is highly appealing to the Chinese audience, with homegrown films such as Lost in Thailand, Breakup Buddies, and Journey to the West (a comedic interpretation of the novel Journey to the West) all topping the charts in China.
Amid an increasingly crowded online and offline distribution market, content is becoming the key to unlocking value in this rapidly growing industry. Those who can respond quickly to Chinese audience demands and appeal and delight them will be the winners in this dynamic and game-changing market.
Renee Hartmann is the co-founder of China Luxury Advisors.