Is China ready to embrace the 3D generation?

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, January 15, 2010
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With the tremendous success of James Cameron's Avatar, which scored a global box office total of US$1.335 billion during its first month, 3D is considered by many as the ultimate salvation for the entertainment industry. In the new decade, filmmakers and TV producers will rely on this long-existing technology to attract and keep audiences.

China, of course, will not lag behind in this global 3D frenzy as it develops into a country with the second most 3D screens and the ability to produce its own 3D TV. The only question remains: when technology and equipment are well prepared and developed, will the content meet audiences' requirements in both quantity and quality?

The answer might not be too optimistic, at least for now.

In contrast to its current popularity in China, when Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D was imported as the country's first nationally distributed 3D film in October 2008, few audiences understood the technology, recalled Qiu Qing, deputy general manager of local film distributor Film Line. "We had to educate them on why and how to put the 3D glasses on, especially for those who already wear glasses, and explain why they had to pay a deposit for these expensive glasses."

Despite a lack of confidence from local cinemas and audiences' unfamiliarity with the medium, the film earned 69 million yuan from showings on only 80 screens, with single screen earnings reaching around 800,000 yuan. In comparison, 2008's local box office champion If You Are the One only made 80,000 yuan per screen, or 340 million yuan for 4,000 screens.

By the end of 2009, China had 550 3D screens, and that number may double by the end of 2010. "We have confidence in the 3D market," said Chen Hongwei, marketing director of Wanda Cinema Line. In his opinion, audiences will be disappointed now if they go to a cinema and find out they have no 3D screens. He also revealed that installing a set of 3D equipment costs only a bit over 100,000 yuan, and that maintenance fees are almost the same as for ordinary screens. "Many of our branch cinemas, even in second and third tier cities, have asked about installing 3D screens. We see 3D as the mainstream of the future film industry."

China's first 3D film, The Adventure of Magician, was produced in Shang-hai and released in 1962; there has been no successor until Happy Boys screened in May last year in what was also the country's first live-action 3D film. However, awful media reviews and poor audience feedback prevented local filmmakers from producing more. The only local 3D film announced for screening this year is True Legend, a kung fu film by Chinese martial arts choreographer and film director Yuen Woo Ping, most notable for his work on The Matrix.

There has been news of several local 3D animation productions to be screened in 2010, but possibly on a smaller scale; film details have yet to be announced. Meanwhile, True Legend is not a full-length 3D film, and only some action scenes are in 3D. The production team declined to provide Global Times more details about the 3D sequences, especially regarding length.

For the development of Chinese 3D films, imagination is the key, pointed out film analyst and Tsinghua University professor Ying Hong. He said it is a long path for the country to develop mature 3D films, which are more challenging in concept than in technology. "The 3D film generation has come. We are not ready, but have to cope well."

The same situation confronts the local 3D TV industry, a field that suddenly amplified last Tuesday when ESPN and Discovery separately unveiled their plans to develop 3D channels in 2010. Household appliance magnates like Sony, Philips and Panasonic all have released their own lines of 3D TV. Local companies like Hisense and TCL reacted quickly and are ready to produce their own lines this year.

"China is not lagging behind foreign countries in the area of 3D TV technology. We can even say we are on the same starting line," said Ju Xinhai, director of marketing and sales of TCL New Technology, a TCL branch specialized in researching and developing 3D TV.

However, high prices and a lack of assorted programs are two main obstacles for the promotion of 3D TV among ordinary Chinese families. According to Zhao Handing, secretary-general of the China Video Industry Association, a 3D-capable television set costs between 60,000 to 100,000 yuan, and that's not including the potentially high fees for receiving 3D TV channels.

"The biggest obstacle still lies in the lack of 3D program content," said Gui Shuangfeng, a media contact representative for Hisense. Though a 3D music video and a 3D TV series have been produced and aired on a small-scale, there has been no concrete news of imminent production of local 3D channels.

Launching a 3D channel could cost hundreds of millions of yuan and take dozens of years to see a return on investment. Earlier local media reports said the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) have pushed CCTV and Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to launch their own 3D channels before 2012.

However, Shan Xiaolei from CCTV's department of technology management denied the rumor, saying they have never received any suggestions or plans for 3D channels from their superiors. Their current focus will still be on promoting High Definition TV.

According to Shan, launching a 3D channel requires a lot of money and energy, and therefore needs full analysis and overall preparation. She pointed out that even if the government has the intention to promote 3D TV, it will not be considered until the next "Five-Year Plan" from 2011 to 2015.


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