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Studio Exec: Chinese Box Office Will Surpass U.S. in 10 Years

Millard Ochs
Robert Mora/Getty Images

With revenue up 65% to $1.5 billion last year, the country may be the most important emerging market, Warner Bros. International Cinemas president Millard Ochs says at first day of CinemaCon.

LAS VEGAS — A decade from now, the Chinese box office will eclipse North America in terms of revenue, Warner Bros. International Cinemas president Millard Ochs predicted as CinemaCon got underway Monday in Las Vegas.

Ochs was among a contingent of top international studio executives speaking on the first day of the annual gathering of theater owners hosted by the National Association of Theater Owners (opening day has traditionally been reserved for the international side of the business).   Ochs and Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps — delivering the keynote breakfast speeches — said the foreign box office is exploding thanks to a growing middle class and new cinema construction.   Considering its potential, China may be the most important emerging market. Last year, Chinese box office revenue was up nearly 65% to $1.5 billion. Half of that came from 3D titles. And according to some estimates, three new screens are being added each day.   “China will surpass U.S. in 10 years,” Ochs said.   Many believe that China will soon loosen its quota on foreign films, if the country is to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling.    China is one of four emerging markets that are considered key to the future of the film business. The others are Brazil, Russia and India (they are referred to as the B.R.I.C. countries). In 2010, international box office receipts were up 13% to $22.1 billion, representing 67% of the global box office and nearly double the $10.6 billion earned at the domestic box office, where revenue was flat.   “If you are a betting person, you’d clearly put a healthy wager on the international box office,” Cripps said.   Today, there are 79,745 screens internationally, compared with 42,388 in North America.   The importance of the international market is even affecting casting and the choice of director. Last year, 10 out of the top 20 worldwide movies were made by non-American directors, Cripps said. And two-thirds of those films had significant international stars as a way to broaden the worldwide audience.