Reaping rewards of promoting China's cultural industry abroad
Youku, the online streaming video service provider under the Alibaba Group, announced at the end of last year that its self-produced detective drama had been acquired by Netflix and will be made available online in more than 190 countries and regions.
This is just a case in point of China’s growing interests and ambition in boosting cultural exports to other countries.
The precursor to the Hangzhou FanFan Comic Group started 12 years ago as a manga production company, undertaking works of coloring, translating and digitalizing Japanese comics. In 2009, FanFan was established to serve as a copyright agent in China for comic works published by Shueisha, one of the largest publishers in Japan, who own a series of best-selling manga magazines.
Tapping into the manga competition “Supernova Awards,” launched in collaboration with the China International Cartoon and Animation Festival held in Hangzhou each year, FanFan has cultivated a large talent pool for producing high-quality original Chinese manga works.
In 2015, its comic work “Magmell of the Sea Blue” was published on Shonen Jump Plus, the digital platform of the most widely circulated Japanese manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Later that year its author, Hu Wei, who was once a contestant on the Supernova Awards, became the first non-Japanese manga artist to have work featured in the magazine.
“It shows that Chinese original manga works have been recognized in an international market. It also shows that the value chain we have developed, covering production, marketing and distribution, is in line with international standards,” said Shen Hao, president of FanFan Comic Group.
And FanFan is indeed trying to expand its business to the more profitable midstream and downstream industries, such as licensing and sales of derivative products.
It collaborated with NetEase in 2016 to turn “A Chinese Ghost Story” (Qiannu Youhun) from a manga work to an animated film to be produced and distributed by influential Japanese comic related companies.
By working with international partners, it has also released model figures based on the characters featured in Hangzhou-based writer Xu Lei’s adventure novel series “The Grave Robbers' Chronicles,” which are to be distributed to a global market.
In both cases, the work itself has already been proven successful in China.
“I believe great works will always strike a chord with any audience,” said Shen who also admitted that cultural differences are a bit of an obstacle for foreign audiences in grasping the cultural and historical elements lying behind a Chinese manga work.
This is even more obvious for the Huace Group, a film and television program production and distribution company headquartered in Hangzhou. It is also one of the biggest audiovisual content exporters in China.
By the end of 2017, Huace has authorized distribution of over 10,000 hours of Chinese films and television programs in more than 180 countries and regions, from Belt and Road Initiative countries to G20 Summit members.
In order to release a Chinese program in a foreign country, you must first translate it into the local language in subtitles. Marketing materials sometimes also need to be rearranged to meet local taste and preference.
“Apart from cultural differences, lack of distribution channels is another key problem facing us,” said Zhu Liangjie, vice general manager of the International Business Department at the Huace Group, who disclosed that earlier on they had to rely on the official distribution portal under the China International Television Corporation or distribution agents overseas.
Huace has now built its own distribution team with more than 30 people in almost all the major markets worldwide. Furthermore, it is also highly active in building up alliances and platforms when going global.
On December 26, 2017, Huace announced together with nine other production companies, including Huayi Brothers and iQiyi, to establish the first Chinese (Online) TV Series Export Union at an industry summit held in Hangzhou.
“The union is like a ship that holds all of us together who want to go abroad,” said Zhao Yifang, president of Huace Group. She expected that the union would increase the pricing power of Chinese companies in the international market.
In the future, the union intends to sell Chinese TV programs to prime international streaming service providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, by taking revenue generated from online views and advertisement.
The union will also work closely with the newly established management committee of the China (Zhejiang) International Cooperation Experimental Zone for Film and TV Industry, which is presently the only national-level industry park that aims to promote and facilitate cultural exports in films and TV programs specifically.
Expected to start operation in June this year, the industry park hopes to attract companies in content making and related service industries. Certain incentives are offered for those taking residence in the park in terms of tax cut, rent discount and direct financial rewards.
Statistics, from local government, show that in 2017 Hangzhou has reached a total value of 108.8 billion yuan (US$17.2 billion) in service export, where export in culture, entertainment and sports’ services had risen by 22.16 percent from a year earlier.
For the past two years, the Hangzhou Commission of Commerce has encouraged banks in Hangzhou to offer trade credit insurance to cultural export companies, an insurance policy already widely adopted in merchant export.