BEIJING — China's Internet heavyweights all seem to be joining a kind of film industry gold rush. Sohu, one of China's largest Internet portal operators, has acquired a 6.4% stake in KeyEast, a South Korean entertainment company, and Sohu CEO Charles Zhang has announced that it will consider producing films once the company's downloading platform matures.
Alibaba, the e-commerce group whose sales rivals eBay and Amazon combined, long ago created its own film and television company, along with two online video portals: leTV and Iqiyi. Through Alibaba, which is set for one of the largest IPO's ever, Internet users can even make investments in films. Up to now, four film investment projects have been completed through this business model.
Meanwhile, Iqiyi plans to launch seven domestic films and one Hollywood movie through its Internet platform by cooperating with both Chinese and foreign film companies in the upcoming year.
The plans of these Internet companies are all more or less the same. That is, they want to use crowd funding, big-data analysis, online sales of movie tickets and derivative e-commerce products to create a maximum profit margin for their films.
Obviously, the aim of these Internet companies isn't just to make gains at the box office but also to generate greater commercial value through online video subscription, derivative e-commerce and games development.
House of Cards, the American drama series known to inform its production by using big data, is the cult example for China's Internet companies. They are convinced that big data will help them tap more diversified revenues from films.
Nonetheless, filmmaking is above all an art. What decides a film's success or failure is, first of all, the script and the script writer behind it. How much the natural gift counts for in this profession where working hard is not the only requirement is most felt by the spectators when watching a bad movie. So whether big data can really help script writers to develop more interesting plots is certainly a complex issue.
The focused film screenings of the Hollywood blockbuster How to Train Your Dragon are an inspiration. That is, big data can improve industrial screenplay production development. In the two special screenings — one for the professionals and the other for families — market researchers recorded in detail every minute of audience responses, such as laughter or indifference. The data was then fed back to the producer to alter the film. A few months later, a follow-up screening with the plot modified according to the previous viewers' responses was programmed to find out what effect it had.
But at the end of the day, will big data improve a film? After all, film is an art before being a science. Success or failure of China's Internet giants is in how to find a gold-plated script writer.