China sets the pace for Asia's rapid expansion


With digital deployment entering the final phase across Asia, most major circuits have neared completion of their conversions. The natural result now in Asia is to construct new world-class cinemas in new and expanding markets—most notably in China.

In 2012, Asia surpassed Europe as the second-largest region in the world for digital cinemas, accounting for about 26% of the estimated 90,000 screens. North America leads the way with 40% of the world’s total.

China is the most prolific market in Asia with about 12,500 active screens, and plans to add another 17,500 screens by 2015. China is in a class by itself with its rapid screen growth and a 27% jump in box office over 2011.

The big question regarding China is always how many Hollywood movies will be allowed into the country each year. Up until early this year, only 20 outside films were allowed for import on a revenue-sharing basis, with the studios receiving a share of ticket sales. This past February, several new developments were announced. China raised the allotted number of imports with a share of box office by 14 and increased the percentage of sales allocated to copyright holders to 25% from the previous 15%.

But as soon as the floodgates open, the Chinese taketh away. With the promise of more imported films being allowed into the country, it appears that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) may be taking a hardened stand because of the dominance of foreign films in the Chinese market. The domestic market has not been able to keep up with its foreign counterpart and this has put pressure on the Chinese film industry. A SARFT spokesman said that the domestic share of box-office receipts had shrunk from 53.6% last year to 41% as a result of the rise in imports. So what to expect? A change in the rules, or more foreign-film blackout periods? Either way, things could be better on the Mainland.

Overall, box office in Asia should reach $6.5 billion in 2012, an increase of 10.23% over the previous year. Attendance rose to 1.03 billion from 890 million in 2011. And the number of screens grew by 16.2 percent to 20,176. (Source: Dodona Research).

With box office pacing ahead of 2011 in North America and Asian numbers strong, the enthusiasm in Hong Kong for the 2012 edition of CineAsia is tremendous. Brisk business is always good medicine for a film convention, and with other strong titles being prepped for release, it could be a record year at the world box office.

CineAsia, according to the managing directors, will be attracting a record audience as well as the largest tradeshow to date. The companies that are spearheading the deployment in Asia of digital and 3D are all coming to Hong Kong, including Christie, Barco, NEC, Doremi, GDC, DLP, RealD, Dolby, MasterImage and more.

All of the major Hollywood studios are presenting product reels and several features will be screened including The Hobbit and Cirque du Soleil in IMAX 3D, Hitchcock and Wreck-It Ralph.

Programming led by the International Cinema Technology Association will cover high frame rates, large-screen formats, digital, alternative content, lasers, concessions and marketing. The Awards Luncheon will salute Han Seng Lim as Distributor of the Year and Jerry Ye of Wanda as Exhibitor of the Year, among other honorees. Following the awards luncheon at the Grand Hyatt, attendees will be taken to Macau to tour the new UA Galaxy Theatre and to see the 3D animated feature Wreck-It Ralph.

CineAsia certainly has something for everyone.

Finishing Strong
As this issue of FJI went to press in the third week of November, box office was up roughly 6.5% compared to 2011. Skyfall became the most successful James Bond movie of all time (not adjusting for inflation), with an international gross of $670 million ($161 million of that figure from the domestic market). The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 also broke its international franchise record with a $341 million opening weekend, its $141 million domestic gross just shy of New Moon’s peak figure.

After some major disappointments this past summer, movie theatres are drawing big crowds once again. And our hopes are high for the remainder of the holiday slate, which truly offers something for every demographic. DreamWorks Animation once again caters to the kid audience with its holiday-themed 3D spectacle Rise of the Guardians, which re-imagines such beloved figures as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Disney/Pixar, meanwhile, revives one of its most popular library titles, Monsters, Inc., with a new 3D upgrade. Children may also be enthralled by the 3D adventure Life of Pi, if Fox finds the key to marketing this Ang Lee art film with a literary pedigree.

Standing out from the pack is one surefire blockbuster, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which finds Peter Jackson returning to the world of his Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. The industry will be watching this one closely not only for its box-office numbers, but for its introduction of High Frame Rate technology in select theatres.

The end of the year always brings award contenders, and the 2012 derby includes films from two recent Oscar-winning directors. Tom Hooper follows up The King’s Speech with the epic-scale movie version of the long-running musical hit Les Miserables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, and Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow returns with Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden.

Action fans can also look forward to Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Django Unchained, a wild tale of a 19th-century American slave’s revenge, and Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, the no-holds-barred homicide investigator from the best-selling series of novels by Lee Child.
Comedy aficionados are looking forward to the return of Judd Apatow, who’s created a vehicle for Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s Knocked Up supporting characters with the middle-age-themed romp This Is 40. The Guilt Trip aims for cross-generational appeal with the unusual pairing of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. And the older crowd will get a special kick out of the grandparenting skills of Bette Midler and Billy Crystal in Parental Guidance.

The lineup for the final five weeks of 2012 is diverse and filled with promise. The movies are back, just in time to deliver some extra holiday cheer.