Chinese Executives Talk Film Promotion, Product Placement, Art-House Challenges

Marina Bay Sands, the venue for ATF/Screen Singapore

A panel at ATF/Screen Singapore addressed the growth in big-screen viewing and the differences between promotions in big cities and the rest of the country.

SINGAPORE – Chinese industry insiders at the Asia TV Forum/Screen Singapore on Thursday discussed how to engage with movie audiences in their rapidly evolving domestic market.

The panel, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's senior film critic in the region, Clarence Tsui, began with a look at how the Chinese market has developed over the last couple of decades.

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Wang Yizhi, a founding partner of Hangzhou Fandao Investment Management, explained how the viewing of pirated DVDs on a 21-inch TV by 50 people in a rented hall was the closest most Chinese people got to a cinematic experience in the 1990s and early 2000s.

While many in the global movie business are concerned about the shift to small-screen viewing, China has also moved in the opposite direction with an explosion of new cinemas across the country's cities. The relatively novel experience of watching films on theatrical screens is helping drive the demand for blockbusters and effects-driven titles, panelists said.  

They also discussed the differences in taste between China's wealthier “tier one” cities and other urban centers, explaining how posters and trailers for second- and third-tier cities were more focused on action and stars than those for more sophisticated metropolitan audiences. However, the Internet has become something of a leveler in this respect, though regionally-targeted online advertising is being attempted.

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“But youngsters are getting their information about films internationally before promotion begins in China,” said Li Ning, deputy general manager at Wanda Media, citing Gravity as an example of a film that young audiences knew about before any official Chinese-language information was available.

Li went on to talk about the expense of traditional advertising, such as billboards, because of the vast size of China. The 2011 local hit romantic comedy Love is Not Blind was successfully promoted through social media due to budget constraints, said Li.  

“Younger audiences tend to decide on which movie they’ll watch and buy their tickets online before they come to the theater. So we need to target them online with advertising,” said Li, suggesting many older viewers in China still choose movies as they line up.

Product placement has been becoming increasingly common in Chinese movies, despite some negative reaction from viewers, agreed the panel.

“There was a lack of experienced producers in China to deal with issues around product placement,” said Zhang Wenbo, CEO of Bole Marketing, who said that most directors understood that the funds it generates help get their films to bigger audiences.

In a short Q&A session the panel was asked if art-house cinema had a place in China’s booming theatrical market, with the consensus being that its prospects were no rosier than in most countries.

“There are about 3,000 screens in China now, and the distribution of films is very uniform; it’s very hard to see art-house films in cinemas,” said Li. “We need epic films to cover the costs of the new theaters.”

Twitter: @GavinJBlair