Stanley Tong:Developing the Asian Film and Television Cultural Industry Together
Origin:Boao Forum for Asia      Time:2013-12-13 14:41:24     Views:843110

   I. Developing a New Industry Together

    Today, I wish to discuss how to open up the Asian film and television cultural industries.

    "Cultural Industries" is a very broad term that includes film, television, the publication of newspapers, books, and journals, the performing arts, the fine arts, internet and video games, sports, and many other industries.  Among these, I believe film and television are the most progressive.  Film and television are capable of reaching more international audiences than most other cultural industries.  In most of Asia, where film and television are a basic and very important form of entertainment, they have become daily necessities.

    Modern economics indicates that the status of film and television industry development is an important index used to determine the composite strength of any nation.

    The total market consumption of the global cultural industry in 2003 exceeded$1,130 billion U.S. dollars.  Out of that,

    " The North American market represents almost fifty percent, or$521 billion U.S. dollars(actual percentage 46.1%).

    " Europe, Africa and the Middle East together amount to$352 billion(31.15%),

    " Latin America totals$40 billion(3.5%); while

    " Asia, which has 56% of the total world population, totals only$217 billion, only 19.2%.

    From this, we can see that the development of global cultural industries is not a balanced one. Because most countries in Asia are developing nations, there is a big difference between their market share and those of, for example, North America and Europe.

    II. Looking at Two Industries: Hollywood and Hong Kong

    Because of this imbalance, we need to decide how to expand the market of the film and television industries in Asia, as well as how to change and improve the current situation.  I propose to do this by analyzing a successful industry, discussing the problems in our industries, and then try to apply elements from the successful model.

    Hollywood has by far the most successful film and television industry, which dominates the world market.  They are successful for 5 main reasons:

    1. Language.  English is an international language, which helps the exportation of film and television products to other countries in the world.  Even in Asia, most schools teach English as a second language, and English is the language of law and business.

    2. North America is the world's largest single market. Distribution to the domestic market alone will usually cover the production costs.  Distribution to other countries is purely a fringe benefit, and therefore there is the luxury of choice.  Only the films that are suitable to overseas markets will go overseas.  Even in today's smaller world, the international income from a Hollywood film is only about 55% of the total income.  The domestic market carries 45%.  These figures are very attractive to large-capital investors, because since the domestic income can cover the costs, then most of the 55% from international is profit.  As a result, with the larger investments, more films can be produced, with a wide range of topics, and more large-scale, big-budget productions using hi-tech devices can be made.  This creates a benign development track, where things become better and better.

    3. The American government has a better-developed system of industrial development policies and laws which are very good at protecting intellectual property rights. By controlling piracy, the producers will receive their just returns, helping the film and television industry to have a healthy development. 

    4. Hollywood emphasizes the training of talent and resources.  It also aggressively develops high-technology in filmmaking.  They also readily absorb foreign talent into the industry-- unlike some other countries who, in the name of protectionism, limits the importing of foreign talent.

    5. They have very well-developed distribution, powerful publicity and experienced marketing systems. In addition, they have established an efficient global distribution network.  Hollywood is also the international leader in developing offshoot industries to their film and television properties, including sponsorship, merchandising, product licensing, and even theme parks and other tourism industry businesses.

    In contrast, if a local film and television industry has only a small domestic market,

    and there is no capital to sustain a planned development, then there will eventually be a loss of local market income, which will cause some serious difficulties for that industry.  This vicious cycle describes the Hong Kong film industry in the last ten years.

    For many years, Hong Kong had the strongest film and television industry in South-east Asia.  It was known as"the Hollywood of the East".  At one time, it ranked third in the world in the number of films produced(behind Hollywood and India), and second in the world in the number of films exported(just behind Hollywood).  Because of its very small local market which can only support 30% of total income, Hong Kong has always relied on foreign markets for distribution income, and so a large number of the films have themes that are quite international.  But in the past ten years, the industry has been shrinking.  You will see that Hollywood films are gaining the upper hand in Hong Kong.  The situation is more serious in other regions.

    " In 1993, Hong Kong produced 153 films, with a box office of$1billion 146 million Hong Kong dollars.  Hong Kong imported 173 films, with a box office of$419 million Hong Kong dollars. The total box office was$1 billion 565 million Hong Kong dollars.  Locally produced films were 46.9% of the total distributed films, yet they brought in 73.22% of the total box office.

    " In 1999, Hong Kong produced only 86 films, with a box office of$345 million Hong Kong dollars.  Imported films jumped to 223, with a box office of$551 million Hong Kong dollars. The total box office fell below the billion mark to$896 million.  Locally produced films were 27.83% of the total distributed films, and the box office situation was reversed, with local productions a mere 38.5% of the total.

    " 2003 became the low point in the film industry.   Only 77 local productions were made, with a box office of$360 million.  Imported films held steady at 200, and the box office was an unremarkable$507 million.  Total box office was$867 million.  Local productions were 27.79% of the total distributed films, and box office was only 41.23% of the total.

    We see that in the first five years, the Hong Kong film industry was in a good position against foreign films in fighting for the local market.  Hong Kong films were also continuously being exported into foreign countries.  In the later five years, because of a local talent drain as well as a lack of education funding and training for upcoming new talent, there was a serious shortage of talent suitable to enter the international market.  A shortage of liquid capital, technology, and creative ideas followed, causing Hong Kong to gradually lose its original developmental advantages.  Even though the Hong Kong film industry has never stopped working hard, they are moving forward under very adverse conditions.

    But there is another lesson in those numbers.  All through the years, local productions almost always gross more than foreign imports.  When local productions were 46.9% of the total, their box office was 73.22% of the total.  27.83% of the films, 38.5% of the box office.  27.79% of the films,  41.23% of the box office. Therefore, we can safely conclude that Asian people prefer Asian product.

    III. Asian Countries Working Together

    Asia has the world's greatest population- around 56%.  Most regions in Asia are developing nations.  In comparison to Western nations, we are behind in our development in the film and television cultural industries. But for the same reason, Asia has the greatest potential for development.  It has many rich cultural resources, each with its own characteristics.  If those resources can be fully developed by the Asian countries working together, the possibilities of making film and television products with international impact are endless. 

    Asia has a long historical background.  For generations, we have passed on our cultures to one another.  As a result, there is a similarity in our backgrounds, and there are many common themes which would be potentially suitable for multi-national film and television projects.  Also, because our cultures are similar, Asian cast and crew members work well with one another.

    In recent years, regions such as China, Hong Kong, Korea, India and Thailand have been working hard in search of a definitive path for the development of their individual film and television industries. Excellent film and television products which have been commercially successful in their local regions have opened up the South-east Asian market.  Some films have even entered the European, American, and global markets.  The reasons for their success are creativity, uniqueness, multi-cultural qualities, and low budgets.

    So, if we can strengthen the cooperation among Asian countries, and increase interactivity among the markets, then we will have a chance to compete with Hollywood.

    But there are also disadvantages.  Due to our individual differences in geographical environments and cultural backgrounds, some of the reasons for Hollywood's success cannot apply here.  But we can try to work out the problems with our own means:

    1. Language.  China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, all our languages are completely different from one another. This limits international distribution, because a lot of mainstream cinemas in Western countries don't like to show subtitled or dubbed films. 

    2. Each local market is very small, especially in comparison with North America. In order to compete with Hollywood for market share and for foreign currency, our film and television industries must be made international.  At the same time, we must strengthen our distribution network, and join more international networks.

    3. There is not enough local capital to support local film development and training.  Film schools should be established, to teach digital technology and also to teach bi-lingual filmmaking. 

    4. Some countries are not friendly to the idea of learning from foreign talent.  We should make use of our neighboring countries known for hi-tech development, such as India, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, and invite them to participate in our industry.

    IV. China and the WTO, and the Asian Film and Television League

    China is the country with the greatest population in the world.  Since it has opened up, the people's economy has been in steady development. With China joining the World Trade Organization, the Chinese government has relaxed its importation policies. Asian countries should take advantage of China's huge potential market because it accepts Asian cultures more easily than the West.  For example, Korean, Thai, Japanese and Taiwanese films all did very well in China. 

    In the process of developing the Asian film and television industry, China should aggressively open up and develop, expand its advantages, and give Asian countries an excellent market for their film and television industry investments.

    An Asian Film and Television League should be developed, and China is the best place for it.  China is becoming more production-friendly, and its huge population, vast land, and numerous locations, are suitable for productions with ancient, modern, eastern and western themes.


    The Asian Film and Television League Development Region in China should:

    1. Participate in the construction of the most advanced film and television production facility in the region, which will gradually become an Asian-Pacific Film and Television Cultural Theme Park.

    2. Develop an Asian-Pacific Film and Television Exposition as a platform for exhibition, cultural exchange, and distribution. With such a platform, Asian filmmakers can have more channels through which to show their work, get to know one another, and work together.

    3. Establish training centers for digital and bilingual film and television production talent.

    4. Provide policies for customs tax and other tax benefits to attract foreign investments into the region.

    5. Create the production of industries that are offshoots of the film and television  industry.

    V. Conclusion

    An open Asian film and television industry market requires a film and television cultural industry that is well-equipped and in benign development. 

    With this benign development and interactive markets, Asian films will have a better environment to grow. Then when Asian countries join forces, we will have a chance of competing with Hollywood for international market.  We can even out, and perhaps exceed, the unbalanced market share. Because we are developing nations, and our potential is greater.

    I know I have suggested a lot of things which I cannot do by myself.  I hope I have attracted the attention of the government departments. We need to push one another at the government level in order to develop a cooperative and interactive Asian Film and Television industry.  It will take a long time, and there will be struggles.  But I know we will succeed.  I hope to see this day soon, and I hope I can participate in this ideal.

    Thank you.

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