Fans in for treat as producers move to exploit opportunity
World of Warcraft fan Yan Feng has had a replica of Frostmourne, one of the online game’s most powerful weapons, in his Beijing apartment for years.
But, despite having spent 1,000 yuan ($154) then to buy the sword on e-commerce site Taobao, all Yan got was pirated copy.
Explaining why he opted to buy the fake, Yan, who’s been fascinated by the game for more than a decade, says: “There were only 1,000 official pieces made globally and they sold out very quickly. Also, it was not easy to buy one in the Chinese mainland then.”
The good news for fans like him now is that for the upcoming movie Warcraft, based on Blizzard Entertainment’s game, a wide variety of merchandise will be available to fans in China.
The movie will hit mainland theaters on June 8.
Around 100 movie-themed products, from mobile phone shells to umbrellas, are currently available from online stores and cinemas here.
With the growth of China’s movie industry, the merchandise sector is set to see a huge upswing.
China, which grew to be the world’s second-largest movie market in 2012, saw huge boxoffice growth, up 48.7 percent year on year in 2015.
Meanwhile, despite industry sources predicting that China will overtake the United States to be the world’s top movie market by 2017, its merchandising sector lags far behind theUS.
Figures reported in the domestic media show that while box-office receipts now account for more than 90 percent of China’s movie industry revenues, the figure for the US is around 20 to 30 percent.
The rest of the money comes from related sectors, such as merchandise, theme-park tourism and licensing of the character’s image.
Expressing optimism about the future of the merchandise sector, Kelvin Hou, founder and chief executive officer of Mtime, China’s largest movie merchandise company, says: “China’s movie industry is scaling up, which is good for the movie merchandise sector.”
Mtime, which is also a popular online platform offering movie information, reviews and tickets, is among the few Chinese firms that can obtain copyright authorizations from Hollywood’s “Big Six”.
It is also the only agent authorized to sell Warcraft merchandise in the Chinese mainland.
Giving details of how the merchandising business works, Hou says that major Hollywood studios usually start developing movie-related merchandise almost as the script is being written.
In contrast, most Chinese filmmakers take up the production of merchandise as the premiere nears or after the movie has garnered some measure of popularity, which gives them very little time to design and produce highquality products.
Typically, it takes at least 60 days to come up with a product, which has artistic merit and connects with the film. But Chinese filmmakers, most of whom use the merchandise to promote their films, spend a few weeks or less on developing the products, says Dai Dai, a movie merchandise manager with leading ticketing app Weipiao.
Separately, Chinese movie watchers prefer to buy relatively cheap items.
Also, unlike fans abroad for whom collecting moviethemed merchandise is a serious hobby, few Chinese fans do this, says Dai.
But changes are apparently taking place in China’s booming movie market, mainly pushed by the country’s growing number of middle-class moviegoers, and theirdemand for high-quality, official merchandise.
More than 6,000 cinemas with 32,000 screens China saw up to 1.26 visits in 2015.
Meanwhile, speaking of the shift toward merchandising, Rao Shuguang, the secretarygeneral of the Chinese Film Association, told the 2016 Beijing International Film Festival recently that “China’s movie revenues will see a shift from reliance on the box office to more diverse sources.”
Industry sources also say that the emergence of domestic film franchises will also boost Chinese merchandise production.
Several years Chinese films sequels.
But, in the past two or three years, the producers ofsomeof the highest-grossing domestic films, such as Monster Hunt and Monkey King: Hero Is Back, have announced that sequels are in the pipeline.
The franchises mean that the merchandise retains continuing relevance and will attract more buyers, saysHou.
To understand how merchandising across billion ago, popular rarely had is still a nascent business in China, one has only to look at the Monster Hunter example.
The producers of the film— to date the second highestgrossing film in China — did not realize there was a marketing opportunity waiting to be exploited until toys resembling the protagonist monster began to be sold online.
Now, having learned a lesson, MonsterHunter’s producer Bill Kong has said that his studio has partnered with the China Film Group to develop merchandise, two years ahead of the sequel.
However, despite the opportunity that merchandising offers, piracy remains a major source of concern.
And China will not be able to fully develop its merchandise sector unless a sound system to protect copyrights is established, says Shao Zheng, founder of Lumiere Pavilions, a cinema investmentcompany specializing in the construction and operation of high-end cinemas in China.