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CinemaCon: Panelists Talk China, But Skip ‘Django’ Flap

Chris Dodd says lifting quotas is key to further growth

Industry confab CinemaCon kicked off its third annual installment today in Las Vegas with record attendance during its opening International Day, devoting an entire panel discussion to the challenges and opportunities in China, though none of the panelists even mentioned the most recent kerfuffle on the mainland: the pulling of “Django Unchained” from local theaters.

Instead, the group of panelists discussed the overall growth opportunities in China, as well obstacles including regulatory and quota issues.

Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, advocated for an “open market” in China saying, “We believe in open markets. That’s been the hallmark of this industry from the very beginning.”

The growth of the Chinese market — which surpassed Japan in 2012 to become the world’s second-largest market behind the U.S. — depends largely on the third- and fourth-tiered cities in China. And according to a recent study from Ernst and Young, China is expected to surpass the U.S. by 2020.

“However you market the product, what China needs to do is grow that audience,” Dodd said. “Their job is to lift those quotas.”

Peter YF Chan, Ernst and Young’s leader for Greater China media and entertainment, opened the panel addressing some of the challenges for Hollywood in China, including local government regulation. But neither he nor any of the panelists touched on the subject of “Django,” which was abruptly pulled from Chinese theaters last week, likely because of nudity and violence. Chinese authorities are considering whether they will allow the release with further edits. Sony is distributing the film internationally.

Other panelists, including Ellen Eliasoph, prexy and CEO of Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia, discussed at length the importance of understanding the various moviegoing habits in China.

“The key way to reach the audience throughout (a film’s) complete life cycle is social media,” Eliasoph said. “It’s the most direct way to communicate with consumers in China.”

Imax CEO Rich Gelfond said branding also is an important driver in China . “The concept of going to a branded experience is very important,” he said, especially with auds in lower-tier Chinese cities where there’s less competition for disposable income.

Jerry Ye, CEO of Wanda Cinemas, agreed saying, “The consumption habits in China are so complicated.”

Ye remained confident in the market’s potential, however.

“I want to say to everyone, ‘Work hard to grasp the opportunity,'” he said.

Dodd was equally passionate about developing and fostering relationships in China — not only with government officials, but with filmmakers, as well. He said the MPAA recently participated in its fourth meeting with the Chinese to promote local co-productions.

“We’re engaged in the idea of building relationships,” Dodd said.

As for “Django,” Dodd, at least, will have an opportunity to speak on the topic when he and NATO prexy-CEO John Fithian meet with journos following Tuesday’s industry address.

Conference attendees spent most of the day focused on the overseas marketplace as part of the confab’s International Day. Registered delegates for that day reached a record 925-plus turnout. CinemaCon ends Thursday.

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