Farewell Shanghai... For Now!

25th September 2017 - Jacob

My visit to Shanghai is coming to an end. It has truly been an unforgettable experience. The purpose of the visit was to begin the journey of sharing knowledge about entertainment distribution and marketing with our friends at Shanghai Media Group and Wings Media. Over the last 3 weeks, I feel I have not only broadened my knowledge of the international market place for entertainment; my first-hand experience of Shanghai has also had a profound impact on my views on China and how it is seen by the rest of the world.

The last 3 weeks contain so many highlights and even more fond memories.

I cannot thank my hosts enough for the insights and knowledge shared. I have been made to feel welcome by everyone I've met.

My hosts, Zhen Yan, Andy Tang and Allen Jin at Wings Media

China’s entertainment market cannot be compared to any other. From a television and film point of view, there isn’t a rival with the same opportunities for growth and scale.

With China’s scale comes a plethora of tastes, preferences and also sophistication. Yes, there are political hoops to jump through – but if this knowledge exchange has taught me one thing above else, China’s mass audience is awaiting your entertainment brands, formats and products.

China’s market may not yet be as developed and diverse in needs as the UK – who needs VIP seating in cinemas anyway? That demands a different approach to marketing which, to UK and US eyes might be seen as a return to tradition and direct promotional approach.

Chinese audiences evolving taste in world cinema highlights areas which must learn more

Audiences in China are not only adapting and understanding the ‘event’ that “cinema-going” is, but also the variety of film than can be offered. Interests are being peaked beyond the blockbuster action films (which, of course, do well in box office numbers) – but there is a growing appetite for the best cinema produced globally; think irreverent indie’s and arty award fodder as growth opportunities in China.

Yes, there is an established quota on non-domestic productions - and little guidance on whether this quota will increase or decrease in the coming years. However, we should be working harder to understand this quota from the perspective of the market in China – not simply our own commercial ambitions.

And when we hear about things like an “international film summer black out” – we should see this as an opportunity to navigate alternative ways to find a way onto the screens or into the homes in China.

A key learning is the way that China collaborates with international studios. This is subject to change; I was told co-ventures and co-finances could start to decrease. With collaboration likely to come in the way of specialist teams consulting or acting as a production unit to compliment domestic production here, perhaps we could see specialist GFX production houses cropping up in China.

The face of collaboration set to change?

Animation also poses a huge opportunity in China. The difference in quality between imported and domestic product is shrinking – and what better example of a product being able to have an international identity ready for export than a ‘drawn’ character?

There is also an appetite for ‘foreign’ product with an international twist – take the new animation from Wes Anderson – Isle of Dogs – a animated adventure set in Japan.

International productions have a growing audience in China

There is also a potentially negative effect of this infectious interest in China’s Box office – one that does pose the threat of to the credibility of China eventually becoming a net-exporter of TV and Film content. The focus on formulating products purely for box office success (and profit) may start to reduce the quality of some of these products – and that could affect the overall perception of China’s entertainment output.

Take Orlando bloom’s S.M.A.R.T Chase; this has the identity of an international import into the China market – but is, in fact, a domestic production. Yes, the intentions may well be commercially sound in the evolving box office market here in China – but it is these products that may actually be harmful in the quest for growth, if a high level of quality is not consistently delivered.

Domestic production needs to maintain high quality standards otherwise this could damage the industry's reputation whilst in an period of rapid growth

I return to Feref on October 2nd with a new perspective on the world of entertainment. I am certain of two things; China’s entertainment market will continue to grow from strength to strength and, secondly, in partnership with SMG, Feref will return to Shanghai and China to continue this important knowledge sharing journey.

I am sorry to leave behind the new friends I have made in Shanghai. I am already lobbying to make a return trip as soon as possible!

I will be contacting a few of our clients to organise a China debrief. If you’d like to hear more about what we’ve discovered in this first exchange, please contact me at Feref.