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Sony treks to China

Joint venture plans digital pix, HD TV fare

Sony is upping its ante in the difficult-to-crack Chinese market.

The conglom’s international TV arm is partnering with a division of China Film Group in a co-production joint venture approved by the People’s Republic of China’s national government.

Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) and Hua Long Film Digital Production, a unit of China Film Group, are the two entities combining forces. The new company, Huaso Film/Television Digital Production Company, will be known as Huaso, an acronym combining Hua Long with Sony. CFG will hold a 51% interest in the joint venture with Sony holding the rest.

Venture will focus on producing high-definition TV programs and digital films. It also will look for distribution opportunities in international markets.

The joint venture is part of SPTI’s larger commitment to increase production capabilities in Asia. For a decade the Sony division has been producing local-lingo TV shows of various genres in India, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.

The new Huaso venture received initial approval from China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television in July, but the company decided to wait to announce its creation until after new Chinese media ownership laws were announced earlier this month.

The laws allow increased participation by foreign companies in Chinese TV and film production.

Huaso has opened offices in Beijing and will be run by a board of directors, with Dandan Zhang recently appointed as general manager to oversee day-to-day operations.

Huaso has a number of Chinese-language projects already in development, including sitcoms, drama series and telepics, for distribution within and outside China.

How much money can be made from putting these two entities together remains to be seen, since so far no Hollywood major has been able to extract significant profits from media efforts in China.

(Japanese-owned Sony does have other successful ventures in China on the consumer electronics side.)

“Sony and China Film Group have a long history of co-producing and distributing Chinese films,” said Yang Buting, chairman of the CFG. “Huaso combines the strength and experience of two premier leaders in the filmed entertainment business.”

“China Film Group is the preeminent company in China’s movie and TV industry, and we are honored to be partners with them in this first-of-its-kind joint venture with national reach,” said Michael Grindon, president of SPTI.

Added Yang: “Sony and CFG have grasped an unprecedented opportunity as the Chinese film and TV industry opens up. For the very first time a Hollywood studio will be co-producing programming specifically for China and global audiences.”

CFG is a movie and TV production, post-production and distribution company employing 3,200 employees in its various businesses, including the Beijing Film Studio, the Movie Channel on national broadcaster CCTV, the Huayun Laser Disc Co., and the China Film Equipment Corp.

CFG is also the only Chinese company authorized by the national government to import foreign films. Sony’s pic division SPE has worked with CFG on digital post-production for Chinese feature films, including “Warriors of Heaven & Earth.”

As general manager of Huaso, Zhang will be responsible for the greenlighting of projects, all staffing, contractual and financial matters.

She was most recently a director of Sun TV in Hong Kong and had production experience in Beijing and in Canada.

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