TIFF: Hollywood Grapples With China's Growing Clout at Box Office

THR David Linde - H 2015
Hussein Katz

THR David Linde - H 2015

"I look at China ... as a market that's essentially leapfrogging the West in the way people consume films," Lava Bear founder David Linde told a Toronto panel.

China's growing entertainment challenge to Hollywood isn't new.

But U.S. studio execs attending the Toronto Film Festival were warned to rethink how they target the Chinese market, as internet giants like Alibaba and Baidu make movie fans their core audience as glitzy multiplexes and new digital platforms are rolled out.

"I look at China not only for the tremendous growth of the market, but as a market that's essentially leapfrogging the West in the way people consume films, and are interested in films and in communicating about movies," Lava Bear founder and producer David Linde told the Clearing the Hurdles panel at the Asian Film Summit on Tuesday.

He pointed to the local Chinese blockbuster Monster Hunt recently unseating Universal's Furious 7 as the highest-grossing film ever in China. "There were two movies that grossed over $350 million, one of which was Chinese. That's completed reoriented the value system of a movie, if it can be released and be successful in China," said Linde.

Max Michael, head of Asian business development at UTA, said Hollywood has long looked at the international marketplace, including China, as box office "gravy" after making movies for the domestic market. But he sees China and its fast-growing market overtaking the U.S. as the biggest box office market for movies in two years.

Michael told Hollywood producers to integrate Chinese actors and other local elements into their movies to engage that fast-growing Asian marketplace. "It's one thing to have the spectacle, but it's another to have cultural relevance and to have Asian actors in the film and to have locations that are familiar to people, and all of that is helpful," he said.

Hollywood execs were told to adjust their focus on China beyond new distribution channels and investment deals to drill down on how connected consumers get their Hollywood fix. Andy Li, vice president of iQiYi, the film unit of internet giant Baidu, told the Toronto panel that online discussion among Chinese moviegoers is exploding, as is China's online video market.

"How the stars interact with media and how fans interact with information about stars has changed dramatically," he insisted.