Aug 8, 2016

A box-office bonanza awaits, if you understand the audience: Tencent

China’s rapidly growing appetite for quality movies and diversifying interest in other entertainment formats offer a range of possibilities for content producers, media owners and brand marketers, but local knowledge will be key to success, says Tencent corporate vice-president Steven Chang.

New frontiers: Tencent corporate vice-president Steven Chang explained Chinese media trends at Cannes Lions.
New frontiers: Tencent corporate vice-president Steven Chang explained Chinese media trends at Cannes Lions.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific during Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity last month, Tencent corporate vice-president Steven Chang said business was booming for Chinese cinemas, and the sector was entering a golden era characterised by domestic strength and global influence. 

“In the first two months of this year, the box office in China was already US$1.5 billion, which is very encouraging,” he said. “The forecast is that by 2017, which is just next year, the China box office market will be US$10.3 billion. By then it would be the No 1 market in the world, overtaking the US.

“We will see whether that happens, but in terms of the total participation of the audience, in terms of the number of movies going up, in terms of the number of screens, it has been growing very, very fast.”

And despite the glamour of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, Chang said domestic productions still held sway with audiences. 

“In terms of the potential, it happens to both international blockbusters and also local big movies coming up,” he said. “Looking back on 2015, the No 1 movie was actually locally made, Monster Hunt, and the No 2 — you might be surprised — was Fast and Furious 7. So it is a good mix of globally very successful movies, plus a lot of local. 

“As you can see, in terms of the film market in China, there is a lot of potential but on the other hand it’s pretty much related to local culture and local interests as well.”

During the Cannes festival, Chang delivered a speech to the Lions Entertainment forum on “From East to West: new frontiers of content”, which detailed important trends in media consumption in China. He gave a detailed overview of the country’s entertainment market, introduced the viewing behaviour and content demands of the younger Chinese generation, and laid out a number of ways Tencent is partnering with content providers and brand marketers to leverage media entertainment to connect with Chinese consumers. 

“The explosive growth of high-quality entertainment content not only allows users to enjoy more top-quality content, but also provides more content marketing channels for brands,” Chang told an audience of leading professionals from international TV, music, sports and other entertainment industries.

Talking to Campaign Asia-Pacific brand director Atifa Silk after his lecture, Chang highlighted the findings of a Mary Meeker study released in June. “In China, 90 percent of netizens are on mobile,” he said, adding that the average mobile internet user in China user spent over 200 minutes online every day. “Tencent platforms — including WeChat, QQ, every single other Tencent platform — represent about 55 per cent of the total usage.”

One example that illustrated the sheer scale of China’s online viewership today, Chang said, was the NBA, with which Tencent has signed a five-year deal as its exclusive online broadcasting partner for China.

In April, the live streaming of basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s much-anticipated testimonial match broke audience records.

“That direct broadcast drew accumulated broadcast viewers of approximately 110 million — that’s a lot, and never before seen for a sports programme on a live broadcast.” 

Chang explained that in line with the growth in viewing figures, netizens’ tastes in video content were also diversifying quickly. 

“The potential for using video is not just the interest, but the variety, more than just entertainment, drama and movies, but expanding into sport and a lot of what we call ‘light information’,” he said.

In response, Tencent is investing heavily, making the transition from being a media publisher to becoming a major player in media production.

“Since last year, we are not just acquiring the content from the likes of HBO or the NBA, but we are going into self-production,” Chang said. “We are moving into online drama, movie investment, and also into variety show production. So, again, we are also diversifying.”

Tencent’s investment in movie production so far has been particularly shrewd. The internet giant was one of the main bank-rollers of Monster Hunt, last year’s box-office winner. This year, it has backed Warcraft, the Hollywood fantasy blockbuster based on the World of Warcraft series of online role-playing video games, which have a huge following among China’s so-called post-’90s generation. 

“Its opening in China was the biggest in the world,” Chang said.

“There are a lot of opportunities, particularly for the China market itself. It may perform differently, the interests may be different but we understand what the audience needs and with a lot of platform power, working together to promote it, it will become a very successful case.”

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