For Movie Industry, 3-D Opens Big in China
Landreth, Jonathan, International Herald Tribune
Companies that create 3-D film technology are zeroing in on the mass market in China, where consumers are increasingly seeking authenticity and a high-quality experience that cannot be pirated.
Zheng Huan and Tang Xiaomei, infrequent moviegoers from rural Jiangxi in southeast China, saw their first 3-D film last week while visiting the capital.
It was not the James Cameron film "Titanic 3-D," the highest- grossing movie here this year and the third-highest of all time, with 972 million renminbi, or $153 million, in ticket sales. Instead, it was a swirling martial arts fantasy, "Painted Skin II," which Mr. Zheng said hurt his eyes but Ms. Tang said was captivating.
The two are a shade older than the 18- to 34-year-olds who made Mr. Cameron's earlier 3-D hit, "Avatar," the highest-grossing film in China, with 1.3 billion renminbi in ticket sales. Hollywood is aggressively pursuing that age group now that China is the leading export market for its films in terms of box-office receipts.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Cameron's 3-D technology company, Cameron Pace Group, announced that it would set up shop in Tianjin, a northeastern port city, as part of a government-backed joint venture there. Last spring, Imax said it wanted to install 229 giant screens nationwide.
The initiatives underscore the extent to which American entertainment has gained a foothold in the Chinese market. With movie tickets costing as much as 120 renminbi, or $19, for 3-D and 180 renminbi for Imax, these American technologies are delivering content to Chinese consumers who are increasingly focused on authenticity and a high-quality theater experience that cannot be pirated.
Currently, 7,000 of China's 11,000 screens are equipped for 3-D screenings. RealD, a 3-D technology company based in Beverly Hills, California, said it had nearly 750 3-D screens across China and planned to install 1,250 in the coming years.
In 2008, two 3-D films were shown in China; about 30 will appear in the country by the end of 2012. From January to June, 21 3-D films -- 13 percent of all 159 theatrical releases -- accounted for 46 percent of the box office gross, according to data from Artisan Gateway, a Shanghai-based film consulting firm.
"The beauty of it is that in rural China, you've got theaters that might be the first theater that people attend in their lives, and it's a digital 3-D theater," Mr. Cameron said last week. "They're skipping the 20th century and going straight to the 21st. Putting the glasses on won't be strange to them because that's just how you watch movies. In the urban markets, they associate the glasses with the premium viewing experience."
He likens the transition to 3-D in China to the evolution from black and white to color movies in the West. Though the shift from silent films to "talkies" was rapid in the late 1920s, the move to color took about 25 years. Mr. Cameron expressed hope that the move to 3-D would be even faster in China, perhaps taking 10 years.
He is betting on China's focus on things that are new and technologically sophisticated, a contrast to North America, where moviegoers have received 3-D tentatively. Box office revenue from 3- D films in North America dropped 18 percent from 2010 to 2011, though the 2010 figures included "Avatar," the first 3-D film to reach $1 billion worldwide.
The Chinese government is encouraging more expensive entertainment options as it strives to shift its economy toward consumerism from manufacturing. In February, China further opened its market to foreign films, letting studios release an additional 14 films (for a total of 34) if they were 3-D or in a large format like Imax. …