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Booming Chinese Entertainment Business Benefits Thailand, Study Says

Lost in Thailand P
The popularity of Chinese road comedy "Lost in Thailand" led to an influx of Chinese tourists to the Southeast Asian country.

A research group urges the Thai government and private sector to take advantage of growth in the Chinese entertainment market, which they predict will become the world's largest by 2020.

Chinese entertainment industry is beginning to benefit the film and tourism sectors of regional neighbor Thailand, a recent study suggests.

The report, prepared by KResearch, the research and analysis arm of Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank, looks at the rapid growth of China’s entertainment sector, suggesting key areas of strategic opportunity for the Southeast Asian country.

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China is currently the world’s second-largest movie market behind the U.S., with estimated box-office grosses of $2.75 billion last year. Most analysts predict China will take the top spot within the next five years.

Citing factors such as the digitalization of distribution infrastructure, urbanization policy that brings about higher income, as well as the Chinese government’s easing of controls over entertainment businesses, KResearch estimates that China also will become the world’s largest overall entertainment market by 2020, at $65 billion. 

Such growth suggests there will be “excellent opportunities for Thailand, since our dramas are well-received by Chinese viewers, due to casting, craftsmanship and familiar cultural references between China and Thailand that make it easier for Chinese viewers to connect,” the report says. The research group predicts that copyright royalties for Thai television dramas showing in China might soon hit over $3.15 million per year (100 million baht), with room for growth.

Already one of Asia’s most popular shooting locations, Thailand has also begun attracting more Chinese productions, which are emerging as a steady source of business for Thai crews and productions facilities. In the first half of 2013, 22 Chinese productions shot in Thailand, compared to 21 from the U.S.

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The paper urges the Thai government and private sector to further “focus on promoting Thailand as a location for Chinese productions,” as the “appearance of Thai locales within Chinese cinematic productions will also benefit our tourism and related businesses, e.g., tour operators, hotels, restaurants and souvenir trade.”

That forecast is already well on its way to being borne out: Last year’s hit Chinese comedy, Lost in Thailand -- which grossed $202 million in the country -- led to an influx of Chinese tourists visiting northern Thailand, where the film is set. It was projected that 800,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand in the first quarter of 2013, a year-over-year increase of 37.9 percent. At the time, Sarawut Saetiao, president of the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association told local paper the Bangkok Post that the number of Chinese tourists visiting the area had exploded, with the region’s estimated 40,000 hotel rooms averaging 80 to 90 percent occupancy.

The KResearch writers also advocate that Thai government agencies initiate further negotiations with Chinese officials to facilitate the screening of Thai films in China -- “especially to increase quotas for Thai dramas and other cinematic releases.”

“We might also seek to revise joint-venture regulations with them,” the report adds.

In April, the Thai ambassador to China, Wiboon Kusakul, revealed that his office was holding talks with Chinese officials about the possibility of getting China to revise its current import quota system, which allows just 35 foreign films into the country for wide distribution each year -- meaning Southeast Asian film companies must compete against Hollywood’s biggest tentpoles, such as Iron Man 3 or Transformers 4, to secure a China release.

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Wiboon said at the time that the government was lobbying China to subdivide its foreign film allocation quota into Asian and non-Asian movie imports, giving regional players, whose film budgets are often one-hundredth of Hollywood’s, a fairer shot at market access.

No policy change has yet come of those talks, but local insiders say it remains a priority for Thailand.

Meanwhile, local studio GTH, which has emerged in recent years as Thailand’s top production house, isn’t wasting time waiting for government policy changes. The studio announced last month that it is in the early stages of developing a Chinese language thriller with Hong Kong actor-director-producer Stephen Chow, to be co-produced by Chow and directed by GTH star director Banjong Pisanthanakun -- who recently broke Thailand’s all-time domestic box-office record with his horror-comedy Pee Mak Phra Khanong, grossing $35 million.

To date, no Thai film has ever gotten a wide release in China. The backing of Chow – whose Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons became the country’s second-highest-grossing film ever – would give GTH and Banjong a strong shot at setting a new precedent of cooperation between the two Asian industries.