China's Mtime Launches App for Box-Office Tracking, Movie Merchandising (Exclusive)

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The industry tool could be a boon to Hollywood, providing reliable data for the often murky Chinese market.

China's leading movie website, Mtime, is launching an industry-targeted app to offer studios accurate and detailed Chinese box office data as well as facilitate direct merchandising deals with Chinese cinema chains.

The app, Mtime PRO, goes live in China on Dec. 10 with an English-language version set to roll out in the next six months. Both versions will be free.

The service could prove a considerable boon to Hollywood, given both the difficulty of getting reliable box office data out of China, and the potential scale of the country's emerging movie merchandising sector.

After some worrisome irregularities at the Chinese box office over the past year, Mtime PRO's ticket sales-tracking functions promise to provide "same-day box office analysis, screen allocation information and competitive comparisons." 

"We've partnered with theaters in over 500 cities, covering over 95 percent of box office," Mtime founder and CEO Kelvin Hou told The Hollywood Reporter. "We also partner with government tracking agencies and private research firms; [and] as the leading online ticketing company, we are tracking millions of users' daily booking behaviors and data, plus pre-sale data."

Mtime was launched in 2005 by Hou, a former Microsoft executive, as a humble movie listings site, but the company has quickly grown to become China's answer to Fandango, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Entertainment Tonight all rolled into one. It is a film review aggregator, one of China's leading mobile ticketing platforms, an entertainment news portal and a movie database with information on every film screened in China since 1930. The company claims 170 million unique visitors per month.

This year, the site also launched an e-commerce arm, starring a sales platform for licensed movie merchandising. Mtime has also announced plans for brick-and mortar stores in cinemas chains across the country, laying the groundwork for an ambitious online-to-offline retail model.

The Mtime PRO service aims to feed that retail business by matching up studios with Chinese theater owners. Exhibitors will be able to use the tool to review upcoming movie merchandise from Mtime's Hollywood and Chinese licensing partners, select the items for purchase, pay via mobile and then have the goods shipped directly to their theater locations.

“Mtime PRO is a one-stop shop for theatrical e-commerce and movie professionals,” Hou said in a statement. “In addition to the great ease with which theater owners will now be able to stock their merchandise, the analyses offered here are truly unparalleled — studio executives will be able to immediately track their box office performance and theater owners will know more about their competitors than ever before.”

Mtime has previously partnered with all of the major Hollywood studios on digital marketing campaigns. Disney was an early partner on merchandising, with Mtime selling over 300 official items tied to the China release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron last June.

Until very recently, movie merchandising was a woefully undeveloped revenue stream in China, owing to rampant piracy and a proliferation of cheap, unlicensed products. But the Chinese government has recently gotten more serious about copyright enforcement, and with China's increasingly discerning middle-class consumers steadily on the rise, the sector is tipped to explode. Chinese tech giant Tencent recently partnered with Disney to sell Star Wars merchandise online, while Alibaba Pictures linked with Paramount to create a range of Mission Impossible — Rouge Nation goods.

Under a deal signed earlier this year, Mtime is building retail stores inside the cinemas of China's largest theater chain, Wanda Cinemas. The agreement will see 15 movie merchandising outlets rolled out in Wanda cinemas in the week before Christmas, and 10 more after the holiday. Mtime has also launched 40 more stores in other theatrical chains across China. The company says it expects to hit 100 stores by Chinese New Year (Feb. 8, 2016).

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