Over the past few years, as many Western economies have foundered and some developing nations have seen their financial fortunes rise, the four powerhouses of Brazil, Russia, India and China have come to be known as the BRIC nations — a group whose collective impact on world commerce has grown exponentially.
This is as true in the realm of showbiz as it is in larger arenas such as manufacturing and finance. Hollywood is paying attention. Brazil, Russia and China have emerged as box office growth markets for U.S. pics, even as American domestic attendance stagnates. And while India’s Bollywood-centric domestic market is more resistant to penetration, the sub-continent, along with China, has invested significantly in U.S. showbiz. The two are buying aggressively into studios (Reliance/DreamWorks), exhibition (Wanda/AMC) and technical services (Prime Focus and several post and vfx houses).
Of course, the BRIC countries are culturally and geographically diverse and have more differences than similarities, and U.S.-BRIC alliances take forms ranging from simple product sales to full-blown partnerships. But the impact of the BRIC countries — or BRICS, if one adds South Africa, considered by many the fifth member — on U.S. showbiz is broad and deep.
“For years the studios ignored these countries,” says Marion Edwards, prexy of 20th Century Fox Intl. Television. “There wasn’t enough money and it was hard to do business there.”
But all that’s changed. Today, for example, Edwards’ unit has an “enormously thriving” pay TV biz in Brazil, and has found similar success with premium content in Russia.
Lionsgate, too, is mining more coin among the BRICs. Studio’s “The Hunger Games” was released on China’s 67 Imax screens, among other venues, says Lionsgate Intl. prexy Helen Lee Kim. Pic secured a slot in China’s recently expanded quota system, which increased from 20 to 34 the number of foreign films that can be imported annually, provided the additional product is in 3D and/or Imax.
For Imax, the rapid growth of movie attendance in China and Russia has proved to be a bonanza. After the U.S., the two countries are Imax’s “biggest markets, not only for theater growth, but also for box office,” says Greg Foster, chairman and prexy of Imax Filmed Entertainment. “Our per-screen averages in China and Russia are the highest in the world.”
A narrow focus on the BRIC countries, however, doesn’t do justice to the growing impact of other booming economies around the world. South Africa, for example, has not only emerged as a popular location for shooting features (“Chronicle,” “Safe House”), but also has built a lot of economic muscle of its own.
“We used to struggle, but South Africa is now a viable place to do business, especially when seen as a gateway to all of Africa,” says Martin Cuff, former acting director of the Cape Town film commission and exec director of the Association of Film Commissioners Intl.
Cuff notes that three more large economies — South Korea, Indonesia and Turkey — are likely to be considered BRIC members soon. “In these countries, as huge populations move into the middle class, they become aspirational about purchasing products. That’s a new distribution opportunity for Hollywood.”
Foster notes Imax has built a handful of theaters in Turkey and is working on developing a presence in South Africa. In the Far East, in addition to China, Imax is active in such places as Singapore, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Perhaps that’s why other Asian territories that until recently were ignored by U.S. distribs are considered fair game. Lionsgate is licensing in Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia, says Lee Kim, although that activity is in the “infancy stage.”
Overall, Hollywood product can only benefit from foreign release. “The Western entertainment business is built on the success of films and TV series,” says Edwards. “Releasing films in these countries increases their value in subsequent markets.”
Keynote with Milt Barlow , co-founder, CEO, China Lion Film Distribution .
State of the Entertainment Biz: BRIC and Beyond. With: Greg Foster, chairman and prexy, Imax Filmed Entertainment; Helen Lee Kim, president, Lionsgate Intl.; Marion Edwards, prexy, 20th Century Fox Intl. TV; Stephen Davis , prexy, Hasbro Studios. Moderator: Peter Caranicas, deputy editor, Variety .
Co-Production and Co-Financing with BRIC Nations. With: Chris Fenton, prexy, DMG; Jean-Luc De Fanti, managing partner, Hemisphere Capital Management; Li Yuan, co-chairman and prexy, China Mainstream Media National Film Capital Hollywood Group; Fernando Sulichin, producer. Moderator: Rachel Abrams, film reporter, Variety .
Developing Film/TV Projects in Emerging Countries. With: Steve Solot, prexy, Rio Film Commission; Michael Brook, exec manager, Film Auckland; David Wicht, CEO, Film Afrika; Danielle Dajani, senior VP, Raleigh Studios; Nico Dekker, CEO, Cape Town Studios; Aarti Tandon, VP, Wizcraft Intl. Ent. Moderator: Martin Cuff, exec director, AFCI.
Opportunity for Ancillary Business in Emerging Markets. With: Michael Murphy, prexy, Gravitas Ventures; T. Paul Miller, senior VP, Sony Pictures Ent.; Logan Mulvey, CEO, GoDigital; Will Emrick, director, business development, Endemol; Rob Kaplan, Senior VP, APA. Moderator: Andrew Wallenstein, TV editor, Variety.
Location Mavericks Super-Session. With: Tony Salome, location manager, “NCIS: LA”; Lori Balton, location scout, “The Dark Knight Rises” and LMGA prexy; Nancy Haecker, location manager, “House”; Douglas Dresser, prod. supervisor/location manager, “The Hunger Games”; Mike Fantasia, location manager, “The Amazing Spider-Man”; Lisa Strout, director, Massachusetts Film Office. Moderator: Peter Caranicas, deputy editor, Variety .