U.S-China Film & TV Expo in L.A.: "It's the Best Time to Create Content"

US-China Film & TV Expo - H 2014
US-China Film & TV Expo

Chinese and Hollywood execs gathered to discuss better ways to communicate, collaborate — and cash in

Major players from Hollywood and China gathered at Los Angeles' Convention Center for the US-China Film & TV Industry Expo on Sept 15-16, which featured 60 speakers and executives from companies like Relativity Media, The Weinstein Company, Technicolor, Universal Pictures International and dignitaries from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to Yunnan Film Group president Zhang Xun.

"We're building a bridge between the U.S. and China," UCFTIE COO Raymond Cheng told THR. "The rope's thrown over to the other side, and now we've got a one or two-man bridge. In five years, you'll be able to drive a semi across." Added Scout Media executive chair Ross Levinsohn, "It's the best time there's every been to create content, by far."

But experts on the Online Streaming Media panel with Levinsohn (LeVision vp Shan Dongbing, Defy Media evp marketing Andy Tu, Zefr co-founder/CEO Zach James, and Jiafix president/co-founder Marc Ganis) stressed that both cultures have far to go to bridge their gap. Jiaflix's Marc Ganis (who says his cousin, former AMPAS president and Jiaflix chair/co-founder Sid Ganis, "got the niceness gene in the family") cited the performance of Transformers 4 in China as proof that the Chinese market is fulfilling its vast potential. "We broke Avatar's record, $217 million, in eight days -- we're the only movie that's broken $250 million, and then over $300 million. We had 30 days, and Avatar had 127 days in theaters, which doesn't happen anymore. Now it's 30 days or less, and after the first two weekends you're basically done."

Ganis added that the success took some flexible thinking -- such as yielding to China's concept of intellectual property ownership. "We didn't seek to have control, we did it on a contractual basis.  We hired 30 law firms across the country to crack down on pirates. It was expensive, but let's say it was a million dollars -- if you have $300 million, how expensive is it really? It was vitally important that the government was involved -- you don't want to sue, because it costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time, and you don't know what will happen."

Instead, Jiaflix devised a Box Office Protection program to block piracy. "We created a very sophisticated proprietary data collection system to identify anomalies [in ticketing], and when we did, we'd send in 1,200 people from the China Film Group to investigate. Paramount was surprised at how little piracy there was." The Box Office Protection program was pricey, but worth it. "We made 40 times our investment back the first week, and more later," said Ganis.

Jiaflix is partnered with China Movie Channel's web subsidiary M1905, which grants it exclusive rights to import video for new media, including streaming, mobile, and technologies not yet invented. "In 30 days, we're starting a marketing campaign to evoke a sense of status for actually paying to see entertainment, on a cheap — about $5 a month — subscription plan," said Ganis. 

Mobile is part of Ganis' long-term plan, but reaching consumers is challenging since Westerners are forbidden to buy TV commercials.  "They also regulate porn, including what you wouldn't think was porn, like written text," said Ganis.

Cheng added that rules governing content may be different in China and Hollywood, but eventually there will be common ground. "In China, there are sensitive topcs that can't be shown. In America, there are rules about film credits and unions, and Chinese say, 'We don't know that rule exists.' But in five years, filmmakers in the U.S. will have a much easier time in China."