China's iQiyi to Buy 1,000 Hollywood Titles in 2015 to Meet Surging Demand

China Dragons Illustration - P 2014
Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

China Dragons Illustration - P 2014

The move is the latest bold foray into Hollywood by the film unit of Chinese search engine Baidu

iQiyi, the film unit of Chinese search giant Baidu, will have distribution rights to over 1,000 U.S. movie titles next year to meet swelling demand from its users for Hollywood content. The group has already revealed plans to make seven local films and one Hollywood-style film next year.

iQiyi CEO Gong Yu led a team to the American Film Market looking for movies.

"American movies are hugely popular in China. This summer U.S. films overtook Chinese and other international titles to become the most popular titles for paying viewers on iQIYI's platform," Gong said in a statement.

Baidu is one of numerous Chinese tech firms that are emerging internationally as possible studio buyers, content acquirers and distribution outlets for Hollywood fare in the world's second-biggest film market.

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Baidu is, alongside Alibaba and Tencent, one of the three big firms known as "BAT," which are revving up for major moves in the China market.

"Through events like AFM we hope to expand our international partnerships, particularly for American motion pictures," Gong said.

iQiyi has been making some significant moves in the movie business of late. Over one million users took part in iQiyi's crowdfunding program for The Golden Era, the recently released film by Ann Hui, raising nearly $3 million in three minutes.

iQiyi also signed deals for 90 movies at Korea's Busan film festival last month.

The group's senior vice president, Yang Xianghua, said he hoped Hollywood studios could shorten the window between U.S. releases and online releases in China to ensure that their users see Hollywood movies at the earliest opportunity, as this would help combat piracy and increase revenues that Hollywood movies can earn from online-paying users.

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"As iQiyi charges five yuan ($0.82) for Chinese audiences to watch new releases online, the same cost for a pirated DVD, if American movies can appear online in a timely manner, then Chinese users would prefer a good quality online version to a pirated DVD," said Yang.

At Busan, Yang forecast that online box office revenues would match theatrical within five years.

In June of this year, iQiyi paying members watched more American movies than Chinese-language movies for the first time ever. Views of American films also far surpassed those from other regions, such as Korea and Europe.

In September, the giant robots of the Transformers franchise topped the list, alongside Killer Elite and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1, which came in number two and three, respectively.

Chinese viewers were also keen on science fiction and romance, with Secretary and Season of the Witch in the top 10 for online views.