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'Superman' Takes Off Early in China

28 Sep, 2006 By: Thomas A., Jonathan L.

Further ratcheting up its efforts to combat piracy, Warner Home Video has released Superman Returns on DVD to thousands of Chinese retailers two months earlier than anywhere else in the world.

The hit summer movie, encrypted to make it difficult to copy, is on sale at more than 8,000 Chinese retailers, many of which previously only carried pirated copies of Hollywood movies, according to CAV Warner Home Entertainment, the joint venture Warner formed in November 2004 with China Audio Video.

The Mandarin-language DVDs cost about twice what counterfeit DVDs typically sell for. The single-disc Superman Returns costs 14 yuan (about $1.75), while the two-disc special edition is available for 22 yuan ($2.75).

Superman Returns won't be released domestically until Nov. 28 at $28.98 for the single disc and $34.99 for the two-disc special edition. In other territories, the DVD goes on sale at approximately the same time.

“Piracy is a big problem in China, as it is in many markets around the world, and it requires a very specific approach and strategy to fight,” said Mark Horak, EVP and GM of Warner Home Video, Asia Pacific and Latin America.

Horak notes that while Warner has been steadily pushing up DVD release dates in China, the Superman Returns window is twice as long as any previous one. In the past, Warner has stuck to traditional retailers, but with Superman Returns the studio took square aim at the many independents that deal primarily in counterfeit goods.

“Imagine walking through a city and every 100 yards or so is a little store that sells pirated product,” Horak said. “The campaign we put together behind Superman Returns is intended to build out our distribution for Hollywood product in those stores that previously only sold pirated product.”

The unprecedented step was taken in conjunction with the Chinese Ministry of Culture's antipiracy initiatives, Horak said. Spurred by reports from the Motion Picture Association that China's piracy rate, at 95%, is among the highest in the world, Chinese authorities in July began a 100-day crackdown on retail sellers of illegally copied optical discs, stepping up raids.

“The fight against piracy requires a supportive environment from the entire society,” Zhang Xinjian, deputy general director of the Audio-Video Market Administration Bureau of the Ministry of Culture, said in statement from CAV Warner.

Still, the day legitimate copies of Superman Returns went on sale in China, a bootleg DVD of the film, with a crisp picture and audio and subtitles in Mandarin and English, was purchased in Beijing by a reporter for 10 yuan ($1.25).

“That doesn't surprise me,” Horak said. “But at least now a consumer there has a choice of buying a legitimate copy, of higher quality and with all the extras, for not much more.”

Jonathan Landreth is Beijing bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter.

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