The film that has garnered the most attention this year in China is the June release “Tiny Times,” a homegrown picture that has been likened to “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Sex and the City.” Made by 30-year-old novelist-turned first-time producer-director Guo Jingming, the film has divided critics and won surprising plaudits as it delivers an aspirational, almost “greed is good” message lapped up by millions.
Its producer-distributor Zhang Zhao says the film and its marketing campaign were shaped by big data and executed via social media.
This emphasis on market research and audience forecasting is growing in the Chinese film biz. New research companies, such as Entdigital, formed a year ago by a former Sina.com executive, are emerging. The company claims 85% accuracy in predicting box office by tapping into users of Weibo (China’s hugely successful equivalent of Twitter), Renren (the Chinese Facebook) and Douban, an entertainment-skewed social network.
China is well-suited for big-data number crunchers. It’s become a nation of home shoppers where everything from a hamburger to a car can be bought online. According to Hangzhou-based e-Business Research, online retail in China grew 43% to $123 billion in the first six months of this year.
TV-film production house Zhejiang Huace recently announced the biggest acquisition in the sector when it unveiled a $269 million takeover of 10-year-old data-cruncher Shanghai Croton Media.
Guo’s understanding of the audience through data meant he had a sequel ready that was quickly released in August, while third and fourth installments are expected to compete in summer 2014 and 2015.
Zhang made “Tiny Times” and “Tiny Times 2.0” on a combined budget of $8.2 million. The two films spoke to a group that hadn’t been addressed before by a Chinese movie, he maintains. “There has never before been a commercial film for youth,” Zhang says. “These are the kids that normally watch all their films on the Internet. We knew they were there.”
Zhang is in a good position to know. His Le Vision Pictures, which last year invested in “Expendables II” and recently hired Zhang Yimou as its artistic director, is the film production offshoot of LeTV, one of China’s successful online video companies.
Zhang says the company taps into more than 100 million Weibo followers for suggestions to determine the director and stars of the films; author Guo alone has some 20 million followers thanks largely to his books, which have sold some 4 million copies, skewing to the 15- to 25-year-old bracket.
Zhang embarked on what he calls O-2-O (short for “online to offline”) marketing aimed at enticing into the cinema a young generation not used to the theatrical experience.