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Traditional Players and Innovators Alike Seek New Strategies to Build Audiences

As the film industry prepares for its annual pilgrimage to Cannes, cineastes and industry honchos can be assured that the world still loves going to the movies. Last year, the global box office scaled new heights, raking in more than $40 billion for the first time.

But being assured is not the same as resting easy. Today’s entertainment landscape remains in significant flux, undergoing a reshaping by innovators ranging from Netflix to MoviePass, all with ambitions every bit as far-reaching as those of the traditional, more established players. The war for consumers is raging more fiercely than ever, while at the same time the rules of engagement are rapidly shifting.

So are the battlefields. Globally, the entertainment and media sector is forecast to grow by more than 20% between 2016 and 2021, to $2.2 trillion. But that sunny overall projection masks where the new growth fronts are — and the weak spots.

After a temporary slowdown in 2016, China has reasserted itself as perhaps the world’s most coveted movie market, though governmental interference in the industry casts a long shadow over domestic and foreign companies alike. Saudi Arabia ditched its 35-year ban on cinemas in December, opening up virgin territory that Hollywood and others are eyeing as eagerly as a newly discovered oilfield. Rising smartphone penetration and the falling cost of data have put millions of potential customers in play in India and in Africa, where 60% of the population is under the age of 25.

By contrast, uncertainty is plaguing mature markets such as the U.S., where box office dipped to a three-year low in 2017, dragged down by a disappointing summer. In Britain, the world’s fourth-largest movie market, the entertainment industry is nervously awaiting the outcome of Brexit negotiations. In France, despite a healthy public appetite for movies, many distributors are struggling.

As a result, globally minded strategies and revenues are more vital than ever, especially when it comes to big-budget spectacles like Sony’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or EuropaCorp’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Consider this: Of last year’s 30 highest-grossing movies worldwide — the vast majority of which were Hollywood titles — all but one made more money outside the U.S. than within. The sole exception was “Wonder Woman,” which hit about 50-50 in terms of domestic versus foreign earnings. (This year’s “Black Panther” appears on track for an even split as well.)

“If you’re a filmmaker or studio, you need to look at the global view,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “If you don’t, you’re leaving a lot of the opportunity and a lot of the money on the table.”

The only non-Hollywood title in last year’s top 10 was Chinese blockbuster “Wolf Warrior II,” which not only pulled in more than $870 million but did so, remarkably, almost entirely at the domestic box office, underlining the rejuvenated potential of the Middle Kingdom. True, local product gets a leg up through government help, such as blackout periods for imported films during busy holiday seasons. But the success of “Wolf Warrior II” is no anomaly: Already this year in China, “Operation Red Sea” has earned $600 million and counting, and “Detective Chinatown 2” made $560 million.

In fact, China’s box office was bigger than North America’s during the opening quarter of 2018 — the first time that’s happened — increasing the likelihood that this will finally be the year the Chinese market overtakes the U.S.’ in size. Growth in China is pegged at an astonishing 15% to 20% in 2018, whereas the U.S. market will probably remain relatively flat. This has upped the stakes for the protracted negotiations under way between Beijing and Washington over new quotas and revenue-sharing arrangements for American films.

“If you don’t [Look at the global view], you’re leaving a lot of the opportunity and a lot of the money on the table.”
Paul Dergarabedian, comScore

Dergarabedian says that people look at the Chinese industry and ask, “Can a film like ‘Operation Red Sea’ or ‘Detective Chinatown 2’ break out of the home country?” His response: “Do they really need to? With a billion dollars banked between just those two films alone, I say they don’t necessarily need that crossover.”

In other words, strong local content can be a winner when done right, and in the right market. That’s true for TV these days as well as film — witness the explosion, fueled by the streaming giants, of homegrown shows in plenty of languages aside from English. Amazon has ordered at least 17 original series in India, the first of which bowed last July; more than 70% of Amazon Prime Video content in India and Japan is local. Over the past several months, Netflix has unveiled its debut Italian-language original show (“Suburra”), commissioned its first Swedish- and Dutch-language original series, and, not coincidentally, added nearly three times as many international subscribers as U.S. ones during the first quarter of 2018.

The global reach of Netflix and Amazon has sent local players scrambling to maintain market share or to emulate their strategies. In Malaysia, for example, dominant pay-TV provider Astro continues to dive deep into vernacular content, producing not just television series but, now, films that can bulk up its library. It’s also dusting off plans to become a regional force in Southeast Asia, doing remakes in other languages, signing co-production deals with other countries and launching a streaming service in neighboring Indonesia.

“When Asia is mentioned, people only remember China and India,” says Astro CEO Rohana Rozhan. But Southeast Asia is home to 600 million people, she notes, “and that is our home turf. We believe there is a huge opportunity for [regional] original IPs with stories that resonate for a bigger audience. … The breadth and depth of our content slate has always been our key differentiator.”

For consumers, the content boom is unquestionably a content boon. We’re all spoiled for choice now. For studios, producers, distributors, broadcasters and digital players, the battlefield is tougher than ever, a constantly shifting terrain where not everyone will survive, and where positive outcomes are measured ever more finely.

“We want to see growth. But it becomes increasingly challenging to spur growth in a climate where there are so many alternatives,” Dergarabedian says. “To just hold your own in this marketplace is a victory.”

Argentina $294.1m 47.3m “Despicable Me 3”
“The Fate of the Furious”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Moses and the Ten Commandments”
“The Stars”
Australia $874.4m 85.0m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Thor: Ragnarok”
“Australian Ninja Warrior”
“The Block”
“The Good Doctor”
Brazil $849.8m $180.3m ““The Fate of the Furious”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Justice League”
“Cidade Proibida”
“The Big Catch”
“The Other Side of Paradise”
Chile $133.8m $27.3m “Despicable Me 3”
“The Fate of the Furious”
“Forgive Us Our Sins”
“Sres. Papis”
China $8.6b $1.62b “Wolf Warrior 2”
“The Fate of the Furious”
“Never Say Die”
“CCTV Spring Festival Gala”
“CCTV Lantern Festival Gala”
“First Lesson Begins”
Colombia $184.0m $62.6m “The Fate of the Furious”
“Justice League”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Yo Me Llamo”
“Desafio Super Humanos”
Denmark $129.9m $11.9m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Despicable Me 3”
Egypt $20m $6m “The Fate of the Furious”
“Annabelle: Creation”
“Beauty and the Beast”
France $1.4b $197.5m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Raid Dingue”
“Capitaine Marleau”
“Section de Recherche”
“Le Tueur du Lac”
Germany $1.1b $113.4 “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Suck Me Shakespeer 3”
“Despicable Me 3”
“The Mountain Doctor”
“The Prosecutor”
Hong Kong $227.4m $22.8m “Beauty and the Beast”
“Thor: Ragnarok”
“Despicable Me 3”
“My Ages Apart”
“Heart and Greed”
“The Forgotten Valley”
India $1.8b $1.96b “Dangal”
“Baahubali 2: The Conclusion”
“Secret Superstar”
“Kundali Bhagya”
Iran $46.5m $22.8m “Sperm Whale: Roya’s Selection”
“Side Mirror”
“Patrol 2”
Israel $161.8m $18.2m “Wonder Woman”
“The Fate of the Furious”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Rising Star”
“Big Brother 2017”
“A Wonderful Country”
Italy $646.5m $90.8m “Beauty and the Beast”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Sanremo Music Festival”
“Inspector Montalbano”
“Camilleri Racconta Montalbano”
Japan $1.9b $163.3 “Beauty and the Beast”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Detective Konan: Crimson…Letter”
“Kouhaku (Year-End Song Festival)”
“Doctor X”
Mexico $882.3m $348.0m “Coco”
“The Fate of the Furious”
“Despicable Me 3”
“The Rose of Guadalupe”
“Exatlon Mexico”
“I Plead Guilty”
Netherlands $308.2m $34.2m (2016) “Despicable Me 3”
“Pirates of the Caribbean: …No Tales”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Farmer Wants a Wife”
“All of Holland Bakes”
“Who Is the Mole”
New Zealand $128.8m $15.8m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Hyundai Country Calendar”
“Stayin’ Alive: …the Bee Gees”
“Fair Go”
Nigeria $12.1m $4.0m “The Wedding Party 2”
“The Wedding Party 1”
“10 Days in Sun City”
Norway $152.6m $11.8m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Pirates of the Caribbean: …No Tales”
“Celebrity Farm”
“Eurovision Final”
“The Night Before the Night”
Poland $315.3m $56.6 “Letters to Santa 3”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“M jak miłość”
Qatar $39.0m $3.0m “The Fate of the Furious”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Spider-Man: Homecoming”
Russia $967.8m $230.1m “Pirates of the Caribbean: …No Tales”
“The Last Knight”
“The Fate of the Furious”
“New Year’s Address of … Putin”
“World War II Military Parade”
“Daily News”
South Africa $100.0m $19.9m “The Fate of the Furious”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Generations: The Legacy”
“Skeem Saam”
South Korea $1.5b $218.4m “A Taxi Driver”
“Along With the Gods: …Worlds”
“Confidential Assignment”
“My Golden Life”
“My Father Is Strange”
“Innocent Defendant”
Spain $678.9m $100.5m “Beauty and the Beast”
“Despicable Me 3”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“The Anthill”
“Your Face Sounds Familiar”
“Money Heist”
Sweden $231.5m $16.9m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“On Track”
“Eurovision Final”
Taiwan $270.3m $35.5m “The Fate of the Furious”
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”
“Wonder Woman”
“Spring Flower”
“The Way to Happiness”
“Variety Get Together”
Turkey $232.8m $69.8m “Recep Ivedik 5”
“Ayla: The Daughter of War”
“Between Family”
“Eskiya Dunyaya Hukmdar Olmaz”
“Ufak Tefek Cinayetler”
UAE $244.0m $20.0m “The Fate of the Furious”
“Baahubali 2: The Conclusion”
“Beauty and the Beast”
U.K. $1.8b $171.0m “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Blue Planet II’
“Strictly Come Danging”
“I’m a Celebrity– Get Me Out of Here!”
U.S. & Canada $11.1b $1.2b “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Wonder Woman”
“NBC Sunday Night Football”
“The Big Bang Theory”
“The Good Doctor”
Source: Comscore; plus: BARB (U.K.); Bollywood Hungama; British Film Institute; Broadcast Research Council of South Africa; Centre National du Cinéma; China Box Office; CSM Media Research (Hong Kong); Deloitte; DWDL (Germany); Ernst & Young; FilmOne Distribution (Nigeria); Front Row Entertainment (UAE); IHS Technology; Iranian Independents; Israeli Cinema Owners Assn.; Kantar Media (Norway); Kantar Media (Spain); Media Consultants/Auditel (Italy); Mediascope (Russia); MedyaTava (Turkey); Midrug (Israel); Nielsen (Poland); Nielsen Ibope Mexico; Nielsen Korea; Nielsen Taiwan; Norwegian Film Institute; NZ Motion Picture Distributors ASSN.; NZ Nielsen TAM (New Zealand); OzTAM (Australia); Polish Film Institute; SAPPRFT (China); Screen Australia; SKO (Netherlands); Solutions Research Group (Canada); Statista; Statistics Denmark; Ster Kinekor Ent. (South Africa); Svenska Bio; Swedish Film Institute; Video Research (Japan); Broadcast Audience Research Council (India)

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