CFG strengthens Ballantyne, Cadillac deals

China's top studio buys more projectors, underwrites new film

BEIJING -- China Film Group, China's leading movie studio, recently strengthened its ties with U.S. business in deals for new digital projectors from Ballantyne Strong and product placement film funding from luxury automaker Cadillac.

On Thursday, Ballantyne, an Omaha, Nebraska-based digital cinema projector and services company said CFG had ordered 200 NEC digital cinema projectors for its theaters across China starting delivery in the coming weeks.

About 300 million Chinese are able to afford movie tickets -- roughly the same number of people inhabiting the U.S. -- but the East Asian giant has roughly one-tenth the number of movie screens.

Ballantyne expects to ship 50 projectors before the end of June, sending the balance later this year, the company, which has a sales and service office in Beijing and plans to open a Shanghai office soon, said in a statement.

CFG earlier bought 100 projectors from Ballantyne in the second quarter of 2009 and a further 160 projectors in the first three months of this year.

"China is a very attractive market opportunity for Ballantyne and our partner, NEC," said John Wilmers, Ballantyne president and CEO, adding that, "the PRC is focused on rapidly growing its theatre and screen footprint to as many as 12,000 or more screens in the next three to five years."

Wilmers said Ballantyne also hoped to bring to China the "silver screens" used in most 3D cinemas, beginning in early 2011.

China's boxoffice rose 43% in 2009 to $909 million and official estimates see it jumping again, to $1.47 billion this year, up 61%.  Meanwhile, auto sales in China, though slower in April, still rose 34%.

Just as more Chinese are going to the movies, more are also purchasing new cars.

In April, CFG and General Motors brand Cadillac agreed the U.S. luxury car maker would fund production of the upcoming film "Founding of A Party" and would underwrite the premiere ceremony, local media reported.

The film, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, is a nominal sequel to the 2009 boxoffice hit "Founding of a Republic," which told the story of the party's rise to power and the establishment of the modern Chinese state 60 years ago.

In return, CFG will provide platforms for Cadillac to promote its brand in China, the world's fastest-growing luxury car market.

The funding expands on a cooperative agreement first struck at the end of 2009, when CFG and Cadillac set a joint course to host a "Young Director" program to find new filmmaker talent over the next three years, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.
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