China’s Weying Technology may be the clearest cut example to date of a movie company that is driven by data.
The three-year-old company is China’s leading online agency for movie ticketing. But these days all the talk from its executives is about film production and distribution.
At the Cannes Film Festival, Weying is busily trying to establish its name as a distribution brand and has positioned itself as a sponsor of the Vis A Vis conference and presentation series about Chinese cinema.
Previously, it backed China-themed seminars during the American Film Market in November.
While such seminars are helping the rest of the world understand more about the fast-evolving Chinese, Weying’s own strategy is becoming clearer.
The company was hatched in 2014, and established by a core team of executives including Teddy Gu, and Yang Dan, each with several years of industry experience in production, distribution and marketing. Another, David Lim was a veteran of China’s advertising and Internet sectors.
“2014 was a good time for Weying to be born. We were in the right place, at the right time, with the right people and the right investors,” says Yang. “We were born strong from the first day.”
Investors included Tencent, China’s games and social media giant, which provided funding in the initial round and helped Weying to install itself on its WeChat platform. That also includes movie information, blogs, a payment gateway and access to taxi services. Weying’s initial strategy was to quickly reach scale in online ticketing. Its app connects with most cinemas in the country and allows, booking, seat selection and the use of discount systems.
After three years, three further rounds of capital raising $800 million, and the acquisition of one competitor (Gewara) Weying accounts for 30% of the cinema ticketing market in China and has reached 100 million clients per month. Its app now also operates in the theater and exhibitions sectors.
In its third year of existence, it has been time to pull the other lever that Yang says always there. “One of our strengths has always been an understanding of the importance of content creation,” he says.
The company says it uses the massive amounts of data available to it from cinema-goers, to inform it about audience tastes (China has 36 provinces with sometimes starkly different film preferences), and ultimately to help steer production decisions.
In the second half of last year, Weying unveiled the debut production and slate of its Nextainment subsidiaries. That was followed at the end of the year by the launch of a content investment fund, Weying Galaxy, located outside mainland China, in Hong Kong. Weying Galaxy made a splash for itself, becoming a late to the table investor in “Ghost in the Shell.” Weying Technology earned its time in the spotlight with a CAA-brokered, nine-title acquisition deal with sales agent Wild Bunch. Announced at Cannes, it included five festival titles.
That’s a potentially game-changing development, as such foreign art house movies have, to date, rarely found much response from Chinese audiences. Weying now hopes to stimulate that interest through its own efforts and those in support of a new art-house cinema chain, launched in October last year.
“One of our core value is to leverage the Internet and our capital to facilitate the growth of the industry,” says Yang.
Next, Weying plans to do the same thing in other parts of Asia. In recent months, it has launched localized versions of its app as Movie Express in Hong Kong and WeTix in Malaysia. With tweaks such as English-language interfaces and Facebook log-in, the system remains built on WeChat, which has reached some 100 million overseas users, and stored value service WeChat Wallet.