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Six Questions: Peter Shiao, Head of the U.S.-China Film Summit

14 Oct, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey

Peter Shiao

To Hollywood, China means both big bucks and big piracy.

The most populated country in the world has long intrigued and frustrated American content owners and filmmakers, who constantly seek a stronger foothold across the Pacific.

Peter Shiao, CEO and founder of Orb Media Group and organizer of the U.S.-China Film Summit (Nov. 5 in Los Angeles), spoke with Home Media Magazine about disc and digital in China, censorship of American films and how Chinese-made content performs here.

■ What’s the overall market like for DVD and Blu-ray Disc in China, and is there anything Hollywood studios can do better to improve the market there for disc?

Shiao: Home video remains a negligible market sector for a variety of reasons in China. Piracy in earlier years and digitization more recently have continued to depress DVDs and Blu-rays. The studios and the Motion Picture Association of America have done a laudable job in this sphere in spite of the above.

■ What advances are being made in the Chinese home entertainment market in terms of VOD and electronic sellthrough of Hollywood-produced content?

Shiao: This is actually an area that is generating a great deal of promise. With the ability to stream premium content across a number of well-funded Chinese platforms, coupled with the lack of quotas for imported films or blackout times for television programming, paid VODs per annum is now in the mid-nine digits and still growing. This window is proving to be an exciting new arena for Hollywood content to connect directly and profitably with Chinese consumers eager to watch the latest Hollywood content or library titles alike.

■ The International Intellectual Property Alliance lists China among the top countries hurting U.S. copyright business due to piracy. How are American and Chinese film associations addressing this?

Shiao: With the rise of the Chinese film industry — along with repeated efforts to grow a homegrown software industry — there is a now a wide recognition in China of the importance of intellectual property projection, and the market incentives to do so with the full cooperation of the government. With this shift in consciousness on the matter, the time is now ripe for greater market-based collaborations between both industries and their trade associations.

■ The villains in 2012’s Red Dawn were changed from Chinese to Korean. Chinese-specific scenes were added to Looper and Iron Man 3. Do you see an overall benefit for the studios with these tactics, when it comes to American films for Chinese audiences?

Shiao: Those are actually two different matters. In Red Dawn MGM decided to change the villains in the film somewhat voluntarily in a spirit of not wanting to promote unnecessary hostility between the U.S. and China at the level of the mass audience. Looper and Iron Man 3 were both American films that were produced with an eye toward greater revenue from China. Though these two films ultimately failed to win a formal co-production status, both films ended up performing well in China. Certainly, all Hollywood films made today have to answer the question of how well this film will do in the world’s fastest-growing film market, so this is certainly the start of a permanent change in industry practices.

■ American films are censored regularly in China (Men in Black III, Skyfall). Is this something Hollywood studios just need to accept as part of business or is there something to be done on this side of the Pacific?

Shiao: Yes, it is true that Chinese censors routinely take out scenes from films that it either interprets as unkind to the Chinese ethos and image (in the case of Men in Black III with the somewhat stereotyped Chinese chefs), and others that paint China in a politically unacceptable light (major international crime taking place in China with impunity). On one level, these conditions have to be accepted as the terms of engaging with the Chinese. On another level, it is worthwhile for Hollywood to take stock of how it portrays the Chinese. Personally, as a Chinese-American in Hollywood, I would like to see more positive images of Asians in Hollywood content. I think the sensitivity goes away if and when a reasonable level of representation has been achieved so that every image is not scrutinized to be representative of an entire culture.

■ Conversely, is the U.S. home entertainment market doing all it can to properly market Chinese films to American audiences?

Shiao: A simple perusal of VOD windows on many local multisystem operators will find many recent Chinese films being availed. That is also the case theatrically. I don’t believe that the American home entertainment market is predisposed to not wanting to carry Chinese content. Conversely, I believe when Chinese filmmakers produce more accessible stories suited for international audiences their content will naturally become more popular in the U.S. and other parts of the West. I don’t think that we are too far off from that time.

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