The $16.7 billion Asia Pacific market is the world’s No. 1 box office region, commanding a 40.6% share of the global total despite trade tensions between the U.S. and China, MPA and former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said at the Asia Society’s U.S.-Asia Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles.
“Whether you like it or not, U.S.-China relations are affecting the Asia Pacific region big-time” and will be the key factor shaping its future in 2020 both geopolitically and in terms of the entertainment industry, Rudd said. Unfortunately, that relationship is “getting to be increasingly difficult at a structural level” as the dynamic is “taking an increasingly ideological turn.”
Nevertheless, Rudd expressed a measured optimism that, given the U.S. and China’s interdependence, “to say we are on a path towards economic decoupling is a vast overstatement of reality.”
In Rudd’s estimation, a Phase One trade deal is “highly probable,” possibly by Thanksgiving – particularly since “Trump doesn’t want to tank the economy in an election year.” A Phase Two deal would be harder but is “still probable” next year, Rudd said. The lack of one would have “a wounding effect on global confidence.”
Against this troubling backdrop of uncertainty and other local disputes between China and its neighbors, “the good news is that more people are going to the cinema than ever before in Asia. There’s no question about that,” said MPA president Michael Ellis.
Based on data from Oxford Economics, Ellis said that last year, the film and TV industries made $48.4 billion in direct contributions to China’s GDP and boosted total employment by 4.7 million jobs. In Japan, those industries directly contributed $22.53 billion to Japan’s GDP and added 521,000 jobs, while in South Korea they contributed $7.53 billion and 315,400 total jobs.
China continues to add more than two dozen new movie screens a day, but it also still sees just one average admission per head, while South Korea, a more mature market, sees four. Despite its smaller population, South Korea has more screens per head than either China or Japan, as well as the most VOD penetration per capita, at 38%, compared to just 14% in China and 13% in Japan.
Additional data showed that South Korea exported a total of $600 million worth of film and TV products last year, about 31% of which were film products and 69% were TV products. The South Korean animation sector employs 5,600 people, accounting for 16% of direct employment within the film industry.
The top three American films in China so far this year have been “Avengers: Endgame” ($597 million), “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” ($202 million) and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” ($199 million). The top three in Japan so far have been been a clean sweep for Disney: “Aladdin” ($97 million), “Toy Story 4” ($74 million) and “The Lion King” ($69 million).
Last year, nine films earned more in China than the U.S. These included two superhero flicks (“Venom” and “Aquaman”), two Dwayne Johnson vehicles (“Rampage” and “Skyscraper”), sci-fi action titles “Pacific Rim: Uprising” and “Ready Player One,” actioner “Tomb Raider,” U.S.-China co-production “The Meg,” and “Johnny English Strikes Again,” on the back of Rowan Atkinson’s popularity in the mainland.
So far this year, there have been four films that have performed better in China than stateside: “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” “Alita: Battle Angel,” “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”
In meetings with Chinese officials, criticism was often leveled at Hollywood for making commercial blockbusters like those listed, rather than “more family-oriented films,” Ellis admitted. But, he said, “it’s a business, and those numbers tell the story. This is what the audience likes to see, and as long as audiences like these movies, we’ll make them.”
Animation stood out this year as traveling well around Asia, Ellis noted.