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Goodbye icecream, hello I stream

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2014-09-13 07:19

Goodbye icecream, hello I stream

Wang Xiaoying/China Daily

As movie theaters offer more bells and whistles for screenings, it's time for filmmakers to take a serious look at streaming-enabled platforms.

Video websites used to be a hotbed for pirated content. But with the infusion of big capital, they are turning into an alternative venue for mass viewing.

In the sizeable Chinese contingent at the just completed 71st Venice International Film Festival, one company stood out. It was not a film production company per se, but it hosted China Night, and the number of participants it drew hinted at its gravitas. It was iQiyi, a video streaming website that few outside China have heard of.

The website did not produce any of the Chinese-language films either in competition or otherwise being shown on the Lido. It scored another kind of victory: it licensed 23 films from the festival, which it offers as a video-on-demand service to 15 million of its daily users.

This sounds like a step-down for filmmakers who crave a piece of the fast-growing China market, worth $3.5 billion last year. But the film exhibition market (i.e. showing movies in cinemas) is a tough nut to crack. Not only are foreign films restricted by quota, but even domestic releases face stiff competition. Last year, 305 films got theatrical distribution, of which 60 were imported. That means more than half of the 638 Chinese films that obtained licenses for screening during the year failed to make it to the cinema.

And of those with the lucky break, most found the darkened halls a place of humiliation rather than one of exhilaration. So few people showed up that most releases barely registered a blip on the box-office radar. If you care to study a detailed chart for China's top-grossing films, you will realize that the cinema is far from a democratic venue that welcomes all kinds of works. It discriminates against most titles in favor of a very select few Chinese and Hollywood hits, movies with either eye-popping special effects or jokes and narratives that click with the local audience.

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