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First online premiere shakes film industry

2020-2-3 13:58

 

 

On Jan 23, it was announced that seven movies scheduled for release during the Chinese New Year holiday were to be pulled from cinemas because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, just one day later, on the eve of the lunar New Year, some domestic online platforms, such as Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok), Ixigua Video, Toutiao and Huanxi Media, announced that one of the seven films, Lost in Russia, would be available for viewing at midnight on the first day of the New Year, free of charge.

In the afternoon of the same day, the film industry of Zhejiang province issued a statement, saying that the online premiering of Lost in Russia bypassing the theater channel was dishonest behavior that broke the industry's basic rules and would bring great losses to cinema chains. Most of the Chinese cinema chains even jointly raised an "urgent request" to the authorities asking for a regulation to put an end to any online premiering.

The cinema chains lashed out at the online premiering of Lost in Russia claiming that not only would it damage their own economic interests, it would also violate the industry rules and be detrimental to the development of the film industry as a whole. However, as far as the law is concerned, this is at most a civil dispute between the two parties to the contract, and a third party has no standing to claim an interest, let alone the right to request the film regulators to urgently "put an end" to this activity. Unless a contract has been broken, the law does not take sides, nor does it guarantee that every market player can make money.

To fully understand this dispute, we need to look at it from outside the perspective of existing interests and focus on the future development of the film industry from the perspective of open market and fair competition. This touches on the key issue of this dispute: the cinema chains play a dominant role in the entire movie distribution and exhibition system in China.

The cinema channel is the core channel for China's film industry and has been in place for nearly two decades, and the online showing of Lost in Russia bypassing traditional theaters has threatened a core regime that has guaranteed the interests of cinemas over the past years.

But while cinemas are currently the primary distribution and exhibition channel for the Chinese film industry, this has not always been the case. It is a product of the reform of China's film management system in late 2001. The reform in this direction reflects the basic model of Chinese film industry, in which the construction of theaters dominated by the large cinema chains has driven the growth of the film market and the development of upstream and middle-stream industries by expanding the downstream industry chain.

The cinema chain regime is based on the licensing of film distributors and exhibitors, who thus have an influential say on the whole film industry. This is especially reflected in the profit ratio between the film producers and the cinema chains. The film producers would like to negotiate with the cinema chains to improve their profit margins, but the established profit distribution model does not allow them to do so, and has remained basically unchanged.

As far as legal regulations and industry norms are concerned, there is no specific rule that a movie is only allowed to be released in theaters or can be legally premiered online. Cinema chains want to maintain and consolidate the established order between cinemas and other distribution channels so that audiences pay money at the box office. But the legal status of the online premiere by the online platform companies is still uncertain.

China's leading internet companies have already disrupted many industries, including the film industry. In the past, internet technology enterprises were involved in the film industry in the upper-and middle-stream of the industry chain. The great significance of the film Lost in Russial lies in that it is directly connected to the downstream of the industry, thus having a subversive impact on the cinema release system. The Lost in Russia incident completely exposes the structural imbalance of the profit sharing under the current cinema-led distribution system.

This event is not only a crisis for the Chinese cinema chains, but also touches the key interests of the worldwide film industry. If it leads to online premieres becoming more popular and clearly legal in China, the war Netflix is fighting against AMC, Regal, and Cinemark may have a new frontier in the US as well.

 

1月23日,由于新型冠状病毒爆发,7部计划在春节期间上映的电影被叫停。然而,仅仅一天之后,在农历新年前夕,一些国内的在线平台,如Douyin TikTok(中国版),Ixigua视频,Toutiao和Huanxi媒体宣布,七部影片之一,失去了在俄罗斯,可以查看在午夜在新年的第一天,免费的。


当日下午,浙江省电影行业发表声明,称《迷失俄罗斯》绕过影院频道在网上首映是不诚实的行为,违反了行业的基本规则,将给院线带来巨大损失。大多数中国连锁影院甚至联合向当局提出“紧急请求”,要求出台一项规定,终止任何在线首映。


各大连锁影院对《迷失俄罗斯》的在线首映进行了猛烈抨击,声称这不仅会损害它们自身的经济利益,还违反了行业规则,不利于整个电影行业的发展。然而,就法律而言,这最多是合同双方之间的民事纠纷,第三方没有资格要求利益,更没有权利要求电影监管机构紧急“终止”这一活动。除非合同被破坏,否则法律不会偏袒任何一方,也不能保证每个市场参与者都能赚钱。


要充分理解这一争议,我们需要从现有利益的角度出发,从开放市场和公平竞争的角度关注电影产业的未来发展。这触及了这场争论的关键问题:电影院线在中国整个电影发行和放映系统中占据主导地位。


电影频道是中国电影产业的核心频道,已经存在了近20年,《迷失俄罗斯》(Lost in Russia)绕过传统影院的在线放映,威胁到了一个在过去几年里保障了影院利益的核心体制。


然而,尽管电影院目前是中国电影行业的主要发行和展示渠道,但情况并非总是如此。它是2001年底中国电影管理体制改革的产物。这一方向的改革体现了中国电影产业的基本模式,即以大型连锁影院为主导的影院建设带动了电影市场的增长,通过扩大下游产业链带动了中上游产业的发展。


连锁影院制度是建立在电影发行商和放映商的授权基础上的,他们对整个电影行业有很大的发言权。这一点在电影制片人与连锁影院的利润率上体现得尤为明显。电影制片人愿意与影院连锁商谈判,以提高他们的利润率,但既定的利润分配模式不允许他们这样做,并且基本保持不变。


就法律法规和行业规范而言,并没有明确规定一部电影只能在影院上映或可以在网上合法首映。电影院线想要维持和巩固电影院和其他发行渠道之间的既定秩序,让观众在票房上付费。但在线平台公司的在线首映式的法律地位仍不确定。


中国领先的互联网公司已经扰乱了许多行业,包括电影业。过去,互联网技术企业都是在产业链的中上游涉足电影行业。《迷失俄罗斯》的重要意义在于它直接与产业的下游相联系,对电影发行制度产生颠覆性的影响。《迷失俄罗斯》事件彻底暴露了现行电影主导发行体制下的利益分配结构失衡。


这一事件不仅是中国连锁影院的危机,也触及了全球电影产业的核心利益。如果它能让网络首映在中国变得更受欢迎、更合法,那么Netflix与AMC、Regal和喜满客(Cinemark)之间的战争可能也会在美国开辟新的疆域。

 

原作者: Ling Bin 来自: china daily