Market controls, auteur influence affect need to track
CHINA — Just like anywhere else, market research is important to the Chinese film biz. But because of tight state controls on how films are distributed and a general lack of transparency in China, private market research companies are rare.Most entertainment companies find it easier to do their own research via inhouse marketing departments, which they feel give the most accurate results. “The creation of content and market research are both important and done hand in hand,” says Zhang Huixia of Huaxia Film Distribution. “You can’t say which is more important, we do both at the same time.” Lana Peng, who is in charge of the international sales and distribution office at Huayi Brothers, one of China’s most important private shingles, agrees. “We generally do the market research ourselves. We have very clear divisions of labor, so that each group knows its duties well and, since we have done this for many years, we co-operate with each other,” she says. “This means that hiring a market research company to do the job is not efficient. If you have worked for a long time in this area, you know how to do it already.” For Hollywood, a factor that makes market research less crucial is the fact that China allows only 20 foreign films a year to be brought in for theatrical release on a revenue sharing basis. This acts as a kind of forced quality control, because the majors are grateful for whatever movies they can get into the appealing but tricky market. Another factor in play is the influence of directors in China, who have the kind of power associated with the great auteurs of 1960s cinema in France and Italy. What they say goes, and often the studios rely on that opinion of what the market will like, making research almost redundant. Feng Xiaogang is China’s most bankable director, and a big factor in his success is his innate sense of what will be popular, which has helped him score hit after hit. Citing Feng’s recent success, “If You Are the One 2,” Peng says the decision to invest in the movie was based on the B.O. success of the original pic, “If You Are the One,” and on audience feedback. China is in a unique position in that big-budget movies are almost guaranteed success, with or without market research, because of the growing number of screens and a rising middle class that can afford a night out at the theater. Over the next three to four years, the number of screens is likely to increase from 8,000 to 13,000. This has fuelled the boom in the country’s box office receipts, which hit 10.2 billion yuan ($1.53 billion) last year, up 64% from 2009.