No specific access proposals from China

MPA prez gets signs of support but nothing concrete in Beijing

BEIJING -- Chinese film industry executives and government authorities are making the right noises but have offered no specific proposals to ease Hollywood's access to the world's fastest-growing movie market, Motion Picture Assn. president and COO Bob Pisano said Tuesday.

"The companies I represent are looking to have our movies shown to customers here. That's the name of the game. What you see is a gradual opening of the market. We're looking forward to that opening being faster and broader," said Pisano, speaking on the sidelines of the first day of the 13th Beijing Screenings.

Hollywood studios, long frustrated in their attempts to break in are ever more keen on China now that boxoffice ticket sales have soared, growing an average of 25% over the last five years to reach $635 million in 2008. With only about 4,000 modern cinema screens, the room for growth is potentially huge.

China currently limits to 20 the number of foreign-made films that may be shown in cinemas here for a percentage of the boxoffice.  That number, Hollywood studios believe, should be raised or erased in accordance with a recent World Trade Organization decision China currently is appealing in Geneva.

One of the Hollywood films to sneak in under the Chinese import cap late in the year is the Michael Jackson documentary "This is It," from Sony Pictures Entertainment, which was due for a midnight screening on Tuesday, making its opening in China the first around the world.

But top-level Chinese industry authorities meeting with Pisano, including Zhang Pimin, the recently promoted vice-minister in charge of film at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, have offered no specific numbers regarding the future of the import cap.

"There have been no specifics, as such, but you can be assured that I raised the cap in my discussion with the Chinese," said Pisano, a former top-tier executive at Paramount, MGM and the Screen Actors Guild. When asked what number he thought was fair, Pisano said, "I don't have a number. What's fair is an open market."

Short of a sudden breakthrough on the import cap, Pisano and the MPA member studios will have to await the WTO's decision on China's appeal and for a decisive response from Beijing.

Meanwhile, in November, the MPA will weigh-in "where appropriate" during President Obama's first visit to Beijing for government-to-government talks.

After a weekend of meetings in Beijing, Pisano said that neither had there been Chinese proposals for new ways to fight piracy in a market where licensed copies of movies are, literally, often hard to find in the face of rampant online and DVD piracy.

"The Chinese film industry doesn't fear competition from our movies. It's a matter of bringing into the social discourse a respect for intellectual property. It's not a Chinese problem, it's not an American problem. It's everybody's problem."