Warners hopes to crack China with low-cost DVDs

Here’s how the Hollywood majors are getting their movies into China: Forget the restrictions on the number of theatrical pics that can be imported; put them out cheaply and quickly on DVD.

That’s the strategy unveiled last week in Beijing by Warner Bros., the first foreign distrib to go this route.

With much fanfare Warner Home Video on Feb. 24 unveiled a local distribution arm as a joint venture with a company called CAV, and will offer DVDs for as little as $2.65.

That’s the “silver” tier; “gold”-tier disks will go for about $3.40. In addition, two-disk VCDs (a low-resolution video format popular in Asia) will be available for $1.90.

Warners plans to offer 125 titles on DVD in the next few months.

“Currently, the limit of 20 imported films per year for theatrical release means we only distribute two or three films in China of the 25 to 40 films that we produce annually,” says WHV exec VP John Quinn. “For homevideo, there is no import limit. Films not approved for theatrical can still be released direct to video.”

Silver releases will come out eight to 12 weeks after the U.S. theatrical release, with gold releases set to correspond with the Stateside DVD release.

Since theatrical releases are under the purview of reg body SARFT and DVDs are handled by the Ministry of Culture, censorship standards for the two formats have not been synchronized — meaning more controversial material is allowed on the disks than in moviehouses.

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