Updated: 2012-08-10 07:56
By Lin Jing (China Daily)
Subscribers can enjoy a wide variety of Chinese movies with M1905.com's new set-top box. Provided to China Daily
M1905 launches set-top box for Chinese movie fans in North America
Though it is the new kid in the North American streaming market, it promises to make a big splash with its rich treasure trove of Chinese films.
M1905.com, the website of the government-owned China Movie Channel, is launching a set-top box targeting North American fans of Chinese movies and those of Chinese heritage. The service will offer subscribers streaming access to the channel's constantly expanding library of more than 6,000 Chinese and international films. All the films will be available in high-definition along with 5.1 surround sound.
The set-top box will initially be sold in Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, and later on in other cities. It will cost less than 1,000 yuan ($156, 127 euros).
"We want to promote more Chinese films in overseas markets using the set-top box," says Liang Longfei, M1905's director and vice-president. The set-top box has already received rave reviews during the preview sessions in the United States, he says.
China Movie Channel, which comes under the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, is China's largest buyer of international movies for television and has deals with most of the major studios.
Set up in 2009, M1905 - the name comes from the year China started making movies - has 4 million unique visitors, 3 million real-name registered users and about 16 million daily page-views. Its viewers are spread across 170 countries and regions.
Xiao Huaide, a film industry researcher at the Institute for Cultural Industries of Peking University, says the new device will help more Chinese movies to reach Western audiences.
"Overseas screenings of Chinese movies were confined to film festivals and DVDs. With hardly any general release, it was not surprising that Chinese movies were relatively unknown in the West. What the set-top box offers is an opportunity to reach out to these very audiences," he says.
Besides the limited exposure, Chinese films were also largely hampered in their overseas plans by the vastly different styles of filmmaking and promotions in the West.
"Hollywood movies rely on innovation and imagination to reach out to audiences. Chinese movies, on the other hand, have always relied on their historical background rather than glitz and glamour."
To promote the set-top boxes and the streaming services, China Movie Channel has teamed up with Jiaflix Enterprises, a group set up by former Columbia Pictures chairman Sid Ganis.
Jiaflix will work with China Movie Channel to increase film exchanges between US and China, and also collectively promote films from both countries in each other's markets.
According to Ganis, a former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the company decided to team up on the new venture as it believed that China is playing an increasingly important role in the global movie industry.
"China is fast becoming the most important media and entertainment market in the world and is still growing. We feel that it is important that the international film industry have a greater connection and understanding of Chinese films and its lovers," Ganis says.
Though there are lots of differences between Chinese and American movies, it is still a market with rich pickings, he says.
"American film industry is sometimes very narrow, thinking about what to import to do business. But there are some very fine Chinese films that could play well in the US. We are going to make the American film industry aware of the good Chinese films that exist right now."
He says that though the US market was ready for imports of Chinese films, it has chosen not to do so. "It is only a matter of time before Chinese movies create their own market in the US."
Liang says that the new services will be patterned on the lines of the streaming services provided by companies like the US-based Netflix, which licenses movies and TV shows with upfront payments and charges a flat monthly fee for on-demand streaming.
Though no details have been worked out yet, M1905.com will essentially be a subscription service that will stream movies to subscribers through computers, Internet-connected TVs and mobile devices.
Ganis says that Chinese films will appeal to US audiences as they are "historical and contemporary stories" with a fresh appeal.
Besides Ganis, the other co-founders of Jiaflix are also well connected in the international community. These include Marc Ganis, principal of Jiaflix and president of the sports-business advisory firm SportsCorp Ltd, and Chinese entrepreneur Huang Jianhua, who had earlier held a 15 percent stake in Cleveland Cavaliers, an NBA team.
"The Chinese film industry had a late start and cannot possibly compete with its foreign counterparts now. It is not that easy to introduce Chinese movies abroad," Liang says. He feels that Jiaflix can play the role of middleman, and help reduce the communication costs to a large extent.
Besides developing the set-top box, M1905.com and Jiaflix have drawn up other plans to promote Chinese films abroad, including the third New York Chinese Film Festival that will open on Oct 17.
Apart from movies, the two companies will also introduce more potential Chinese actors and producers to big companies in Hollywood and the rest of the world.
A case in point is Liu Cheng, a veteran Chinese filmmaker. He published Three-Character Primer of Film, a book that sums up the movie-making theories in the style of ancient Chinese scripture. The English version, which is written in the style of sonnets, has been a permanent fixture at the Oscars Library and a mandatory read at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in Chapman University, a prestigious film school in California.
Also on the cards are exchange programs aimed at bringing the advanced technologies and concepts from Hollywood to China.
M1905 conducted a four-week training program along with the New York Film Academy in Beijing in April to teach Chinese students the latest practices in movie production.
The second course started on July 16 with more than 70 students. With a tuition fee of about 25,000 yuan, trainees will also receive training in script writing, filming and post-production.
Xiao says that "the real challenge lies in the innovation of film content and the way of storytelling."
He feels that China should send more people to work in the international studios with other film professionals.
"By working together, Chinese filmmakers and actors can also learn the modern production techniques and innovative concepts from their Hollywood counterparts."
Sun Ye contributed to this story.
(China Daily 08/10/2012 page16)