Hollywood is increasingly eying the potentially lucrative Chinese market. But there are challenges for the U.S. film industry, such as market access restrictions and rampant piracy. The chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America says the development of China's own film industry could help foreign movies succeed in the country. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.
With a rapidly expanding middle class, China could be a very lucrative market for Hollywood. But so far, U.S. film companies are not making a lot of money in the country.
Last year, members of the Motion Picture Association of America, the voice of the U.S. film industry, earned twice as much in Hong Kong - population seven million as they did in the whole of the rest of China, population 1.3 billion.
The big problem is that China allows only 20 foreign films to be shown in its movie theaters each year, about 14 of them from the United States.
There is no shortage of Hollywood movies on the streets of China, however. Illegal copying of films is rampant, despite many promises by Beijing to improve the situation.
The chairman of the Motion Picture Association, Dan Glickman, says that revenue from the home video market - usually the biggest growth market in the movie industry - decreased in China last year. But he says he has some hope that things will get better with the Olympics coming up next year.
"We are hoping that the Olympics offers an opportunity for China to show that it wants to be a good member of the World Trade Organization, wants to live by the rule of law, because there will be tens of millions of people watching every day and visiting China," Glickman said. "And I don't think China wants a time then, when there is going to be lots of pirated material and counterfeited material on the street."
Speaking at a luncheon in Hong Kong on Thursday, Glickman said another challenge is that going to the movies is less popular in China than in other countries.
He says last year, about 176 million movie tickets were sold in the country - compared with four billion in India. One reason is that there are not enough movie theaters. Furthermore, he says, the domestic film industry is under developed, and the creativity of filmmakers stifled by censorship.
Glickman says foreign movie companies would benefit from a stronger Chinese film industry.
"We would like to see much stronger indigenous Chinese film industry so that more Chinese films are being produced for the market in China," Glickman said. "Because the more people go to the movies of any kind, the better it is for film."
Glickman also points out that in recent years, Chinese movies such as Zhang Yimou's martial arts epic "Hero" have become box office hits in the United States.