Cinedigm to Launch U.S. OTT Channel Dedicated to Chinese Content

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Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk

The digital entertainment company's CEO, Chris McGurk, believes there's a growing untapped market for Chinese content in North America.

Digital media company Cinedigm Corp. will soon begin beaming Chinese entertainment into U.S. homes.

Chris McGurk, Cinedigm's chairman and CEO, delivered a speech Tuesday at the Beijing International Film Festival in which he unveiled plans to launch a new over-the-top channel in North America dedicated exclusively to the distribution of Chinese film and television content.

To build out the channel, Cinedigm will leverage its Chinese backers, Bison Capital and Starrise Media. Hong Kong-based media investor Bison Capital completed a majority investment in Cinedigm last November. That deal was followed in January by a strategic partnership with Starrise Media to co-produce and distribute films and other content in North America and China.

McGurk said the new China-dedicated OTT channel was inspired by the surging growth of the U.S. streaming market combined with a dearth of available Chinese content options. The executive said 198 million OTT consumers generated $22.6 billion of revenue in 2017 — numbers forecasted to expand to 240 million users and $33.6 billion by 2021.

"This massive business has already generated an explosion of services to choose from," McGurk said. "However, despite this growth and the diverse body of Chinese film and TV content being created here, today there are virtually no Chinese services targeting general American audiences in any significant way."

Cinedigm's new China channel, which has yet to get a name, will aim to do for Chinese pop culture what Crunchyroll and Dramafever have done for Japanese and Korean content, McGurk added.

"Today in the U.S., most Chinese content released is targeted to Chinese language speakers, which amounts to only about 3 million users," he said. "We believe that new entrants must not only target this base but also a broad group of young English-speaking viewers who already appreciate Asian culture and have already demonstrated a willingness to watch it on services like Crunchyroll and Dramafever."

Cinedigm got its start helping smaller theater chains convert to digital projection, but now it is known for operating OTT channels and providing premium feature films and series to digital platforms including iTunes, Netflix and Amazon; cable and satellite providers including Comcast, Dish Network and DirecTV; and major retailers like Walmart and Target. McGurk, a Hollywood veteran who spent years in the studio system at Disney, Universal and MGM, joined the company in 2011. Cinedigm's suite of existing digital channels includes CONtv, for the Comic Con Network; Dove, a family channel; and Docurama, a channel dedicated to factual content.

McGurk said the new China channel will hire young American hosts and seek out programming that has the international "cool factor" to attract a trendsetting young audience. "I believe that there are several categories of content produced in China today that meet this definition, including fantasy drama, animation, anime and popular music," he added.

A spokesperson for Cinedigm said the Los Angeles-based company has stationed staff in Beijing who are working out of Starrise's offices on content licensing deals.

McGurk is scheduled to attend a signing ceremony in Beijing later this week to announce several additional new Chinese partnerships for Cinedigm.