With China’s box office on track to overtake America’s any year now, Hollywood is increasingly focused on Chinese audiences and Beijing censors. Aynne Kokas, author of “Hollywood in China,” explains what we have in store.
As China’s media market grows, foreign media companies will increasingly need to consider the Chinese market first when developing content.
The power of the Chinese market is such that Hollywood producers will ignore the interests of Chinese audiences and regulators at great financial risk. “Made in China” will be a marketing strategy rather than a way to cut costs. If the market continues to grow, rather than simply being made in China, new productions will increasingly be made for China.
Greater focus on the Chinese market in the development process will likely mean more China-related content for global audiences. The upside of Hollywood producing content for China is that it may diversify the type of stories that Hollywood studios produce, as well as the types of people represented on the screen. Yet greater focus on the Chinese market also may privilege content that is more likely to be accepted by Chinese regulators. As a result, Hollywood’s accommodation of the Chinese market could substantially shift the type of media produced—not only for China, but also for other global markets.
Compounding this trend, Chinese outbound capital has begun to have substantial influence in Hollywood. Hollywood is increasingly a destination for media investment by Chinese companies in individual projects, in US-based offices, and even entire studios.
Alibaba reportedly invested in the 2015 Hollywood film “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.” The China Film Group has been linked as an investor to the record-breaking “Furious 7” movie. Chinese entertainment and technology firm LeTV established its US offices in Los Angeles in 2015. In April 2015, Chinese film studio Huayi Bros. made an agreement with American motion picture company STX entertainment to co-produce and co-distribute 12 to 15 films. In January 2016, the Dalian Wanda Group acquired American studio Legendary Pictures, making it the first Chinese firm to own a Hollywood studio.
Rather than made in China, Hollywood studio productions will also increasingly be made by China—or rather, by Chinese companies investing in Hollywood.
If China’s outbound investment in Hollywood increases, the Chinese government will have less need to accommodate Hollywood capital and technical investment in China. As more distribution moves to networked digital platforms, the incentive structure for Chinese collaborations with Hollywood is likely to shift from collaboration to competition. The increasing role of digital platforms in media distribution is poised to diminish the potential impact American companies can have within Chinese media markets.
Chinese media investment in the United States, by contrast, shows no signs of slowing down.
Depending on its scope, Chinese FDI could reshape our understanding of the global cultural dominance of the US motion picture industry, radically expanding what cultural critic Rey Chow termed Chinese cinema’s “becoming-visible” to global audiences.
As I have argued, Hollywood’s relationship with China has already begun to leave a substantial global footprint as the result of collaborations on big-budget film releases and record-breaking shared theme park and studio investment. The Chinese Dream and the Hollywood dream factory are becoming ever-more entwined as Chinese media firms expand outward into the United States, and as the media and technology sectors continue to converge. But China and Hollywood remain in competition for global dominance—much as the United States and the PRC compete in the diplomatic realm.
In parallel, as Chinese content regulations become more significant to international media production, global commercial media culture may become subject to more demanding content restrictions to which foreign producers may voluntarily agree because of their desire for access to the Chinese market.
Collaborations advancing the Hollywood dream factory and the China dream may also crowd out content from other locales or in less commercial forms, thereby limiting rather than expanding the types of entertainment available to the global public.
Although seemingly awash with an air of inevitability, Hollywood-China collaboration remains unpredictable. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, visual spectacles in the form of red-carpet events, theme parks, and blockbusters are poised to become only more dramatic as Hollywood and China negotiate their global media brands.
Read more in “Hollywood Made in China” by Aynne Kokas.