Chinese Online Film Industry: New Prospect on Smaller Screens
China's streaming giant iQiyi has announced it would release an action movie in collaboration with Sony Pictures Television and Hollywood producer Roger Corman.
The film, when it is released in 2019, will be launched across smart TVs, computers, mobiles, or tablets, rather than the big screen.
The Internet is reshaping the movie industry in the world's second largest film market.
In 2016, 2,500 web films were released in China, almost seven a day, according to the iQiyi. The figure in 2014 was 450, and in 2015 there were 700.
Last year's figure was huge, compared with a total of 423 movies shown in Chinese cinemas throughout the year, including 92 foreign films.
LARGE ARMY OF AUDIENCE
The run-away success of the flourishing industry is all the more astounding when compared with the 3.73 percent year-on-year increase reported by China's box office in 2016, the slowest growth over the past decade.
Ge Xufeng, a senior employee of iQiyi, predicts that this year the Chinese online film market will continue to grow.
The fact that people are happy to pay to watch web movies and there is a growing number of producers interested in making web movies means the success of the industry, observers noted.
There were 120 million paying users registered on China's major streaming players iQiyi, Youku, Tencent and LeTV as of 2016. Non-paying users also use online payments to watch movies on-demand.
"The younger generation, especially, pay to watch movies online, as the platforms cater to their interests and curiosity with more choices," said Wang Sanbao, founder of Weiming Pictures Group.
Figures revealed that online supernatural-fantasy films and thrillers ranked high in terms of hits on Tencent's v.qq.com last year.
Wang also attributed the popularity of web movies to developments in Internet technology. "With Wi-Fi and a cellphone, you can watch a movie whenever and wherever you want."
Compared with films made for the big screen, online movies offer investors and streaming platforms an opportunity to make quick money, as production is quicker and the costs lower.
In 2016, the 20 most-watched web movies on iqiyi.com generated 198 million yuan in revenue for the company.
FROM QUANTITY TO QUALITY
It will come as no surprise that investors, film makers and regulators are keeping a close eye on how the sector develops. And those involved are moving to improve the industry by promoting quality instead of quantity.
By the end of June, 2016, there were 843 online film enterprises in China, over double the number of traditional production companies, according to market tracker Entgroup.
Supported by higher investment and better professionals, web movies in China are expected to be more well-made.
Average investment for a single film online was less than 300,000 yuan in 2014, but last year saw more films backed by investment of around 2.5 million yuan, and even several that cost over 10 million yuan, iQiyi statistics showed.
Domestic movie companies, such as Huayi Brothers Media Group, as well as respected directors and actors, including Gao Qunshu and Wang Jing, have already dipped a toe in the web movie business.
The healthy development of an industry should go hand in hand with sound rules and standards.
The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has enhanced management of web films by ordering that film makers should apply for approval of their content and licenses before distribution of any kind.
China's media watchdog has banned a number of online movies due to regulation violations, such as pornography and intellectual property right infringement.
In the meantime, online video sites have also rolled out their own rules to improve the review of online films.
Fan Zhizhong, professor with Zhejiang University, called on the traditional film community to involve more online movies in the existing film evaluation systems to support the web films of high quality.
This year's Beijing International Film Festival, which opens on April 16, will feature special activities involving web movies.