China


This article Japan looks to keep sun up on animation exportsis an old one from 2005, but the key issues are still relevant, and highlight some of the themes in a forthcoming chapter in a book to be published in 2007 by Asia Pacific Press.

But the question remains how successful it will be to treat animation as another Japanese industry like selling hard drives or motorcycles, as animation has thrived — artistically, at least — leaving artists to their own devices.

What is behind the push however, is the perceived lack of exploitability of Japanese ‘soft’ know-how, and a considerable deficit in the terms of trade in copyright goods. This is compounded by a competitive imperative to earn more revenue from intellectual property rather than straight manufactures, given that neighbouring economies such as China appear on the verge of emerging as more than just the world’s production house/s.

A few key facts and figures quoted in the article are:

According to the Digital Content Association of Japan:

  • Japan’s total Content business in animation, film, publishing and music was at 14.7 trillion yen ($140bn) in 2003
  • Animation (including manga cartoons, films, videos and character products) accounted for 2.7 trillion yen ($26bn), according to the Digital Content Association of Japan.
  • This compares with 50 trillion yen ($474bn) in the US, – 40% of the world total
  • Despite the strength of Japanese animation competition is bound to emerge from other Asian nations like South Korea and China, where Japanese animation companies turn to for labour.
  • China’s culture ministry last year started a university programme to boost China’s animation industry, including via tie-ups in Japan.

It is not just Japan that is turning to other countries for, what is still referred to by some in the industry as “grunt work”. Australian and Singaporean animators and game developers often outsource work to China given the significant cost difference. This comes despite Singapore not yet being an “established” media content region, and significant government efforts to promote the industry. Yet, similarly to Japan, both policymakers and industry players seem to realise that the only way ‘forward’ is to focus on the high-end ‘creative’ aspect of IP creation and the retaining of copyrights.

For Japan (as for Singapore) the strategy for policymakers surely lies in capacity building rather than excessive control of industry activities.

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The trade in television formats has been increasing in recent years, with shows such as Big Brother and American Idol being picked up by broadcasters and production companies around the world, localised with home-grown talent, and re-broadcast to domestic audiences.

Yet in China, authorities are now seeing this boom of popular, ‘low-brow’ entertainment as a threat to the cultural fabric of Chinese society. An AFP news feed article China gives thumbs down to ‘American Idol’ imitators picked up by several sources (ChannelNewsAsia, BrisbaneTimes) indicates that with the launch of a new talent show Happy Boy, a sequel to the wildly successful Super Girl the central government has given strict instructions to broadcaster Hunan Satellite TV.

“No weirdness, no vulgarity, no low taste,” it told Hunan Satellite as it listed 11 restrictions for this year’s series.

Contestants must only sing “healthy and ethically inspiring” songs, while the show must not indulge in “gossip”.

Relate this back to a previous post about Korean Nationalism and the response from imports of Japanese formats. Unlike the Korean case, the negative reaction to the influx of foreign ideas or culture in China is predictably coming from the government rather than concerned private interests.

According to a survey commission by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC), Hong Kong has become the most popular trading centre in Asia for entertainment content. The article in Monsters&Critics reveals that the survey, which interviewed 332 entertainment industry players from around the world, yielded the following information:

  • More than 50 per cent of the respondents said they had acquired entertainment content from Hong Kong in 2006 followed by the Chinese mainland, Japan, Korea and Thailand, respectively.
  • More respondents indicated that they would source entertainment from Hong Kong over the next 12 months, citing Hong Kong as the best place to reach out to the mainland and other Asian areas in exploring co-production opportunities and meeting buyers.
  • More television professionals plan to expand their business in Hong Kong (86 per cent) and the mainland (90 per cent).
  • The Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) was noted by survey respondents as a useful means of finding investment for film projects, as were Korea’s Pusan Promotion Plan and Japanfs Tokyo Project Gathering.
  • About 90 per cent of the respondents said digital entertainment had the greatest growth potential, followed by television (78 per cent) and film (68 per cent).
  • Survey respondents saw the Chinese mainland as the biggest growth potential in the film, television and digital entertainment sectors.
  • More than 80 per cent of the respondents agreed that cross-media convergence will bring more business opportunities to the entertainment industry. They regarded the convergence of film and digital entertainment as having the strongest growth potential in the next 12 months.

The main flaw with using these survey results as evidence for the self-proclaimed title of “Asia’s Entertainment Hub” is that the survey was conducted at the Hong Kong Film & TV Market (FILMART). Naturally, one would expect attendees at this fair to be more likely to purchase content from Hong Kong than other Asian countries. If more than 50 percent of respondents had NOT chosen Hong Kong, it would arguably have been more of a slap in the face to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council than these results are to boast about.

Organisers of the Tokyo or Pusan film markets could run the same research at their respective events and quite possibly reach the conclusion that their country was indeed the entertainment hub of Asia.’ To give these figures any real tractability, the same survey would need to be run in Tokyo and Pusan (substituting Hong Kong’s name for the relevant market). If Hong Kong still emerged as the most popular media and entertainment region, then the Council would have something to boast about.

I am not disputing the importance of Hong Kong in Asian and global media markets – particularly in it providing access to mainland China. I must protest however, when data is used out of context to support such hyperbolic statements.

For some insight into a broader spectrum of opinions from different participants, see the article in The Hollywood Reporter.

Warner Brothers’ Chinese joint venture company, CAV Warner Home Entertainment Co., will aim to beat DVD pirates in China at their own game, according to Xinhua News Agency feed.

The company, which is the only sino-foreign JV company licensed to sell audio-visual products in China, says that it will compete head on with pirates by matching them in price while providing significantly higher quality products and faster release.

This follows on from Warner pulling out of their Chinese cinemas venture and making a decision to distribute content directly via DVD (see my Nov 10 entry).

CAV Warner will also distribute locally produced Chinese-made films throughout China, both a signficant step towards a localisation strategy, and an attempt to further curb losses from film pirates recording movies in US cinemas and sending to China for bootleg production and distribution.

According to director Jia Zhangke, whose film Still Life Warner are distributing, problems with DVD piracy are compounded by the Chinese central government’s restriction on the number of foreign films allowed to be imported each year. While I don’t condone restrictions on any imports, it is interesting to see a local director come out in support of increasing imports…