China film funding risky, promising

Countryside an untapped opportunity, panel says

Complete Shanghai film fest coverage

SHANGHAI -- The vast growth potential for Chinese cinema audiences was dramatically underlined at a major industry event here Monday as one expert revealed that a typical Chinese moviegoer watches just one movie in a cinema every five years.

Shanghai Film Group chairman Ren Zhonglun used that eye-opening stat to stress that, despite selling movie tickets worth 3.3 billion yuan ($478 million) in 2007, there is still plenty of room for growth at China's boxoffice. "China is still far behind the U.S., Korea and Japan," Ren said during a finance forum hosted by the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Rural moviegoing could be a big part of the industry growth. China's countryside is home to more than two-thirds of its population of 1.3 billion people, the conference attendees were told.

"There are 700 million people in rural areas," said Levin Zhu, president of investment bank China International Capital Co. and son of Zhu Rongji, premiere of the People's Republic from 1998-2003. "If we can get them to spend just 10 yuan per year on movies, that will add 7 billion yuan to the boxoffice, more than double all of last year's entire boxoffice."

The focus on China's nascent cinema audiences came as participants heard how regulators in Beijing are promoting tax breaks and government grants to grow commercial filmmaking.

Han Sanping, chairman of state-owned China Film Group, said that the government will match up to 4 million yuan for each 10 million yuan of private investment.

But Sequoia Capital China founder and co-president Neil Shen noted that most Chinese investors will focus on putting money into Chinese production companies while deeming investments in individual films too risky.