Synchronous cinema aims to provide a new mode where the viewing of a Chinese film is synchronized at the TV terminal with the showing of the same film in a commercial movie theater. The core is to watch films synchronically as traditional movie theatres through the smart TV platform. Why the problem is not solved over the past three decades in the development of the Internet? There must be some technical issues. In recent years, we have made three innovations in the field of synchronous cinema.
Three innovations of synchronous cinema
First, transforming the TV set into a player which can reach the standards of motion picture projection. One of the important properties of movie player is to ensure the safety of the media. The most concerned part of film release is the safety of the media, as we have to ensure that the content is not leaked. How to ensure the media safety for a movie through a terminal device? A complete technological system is required, which is the well-known DCP packaging and KDM encryption system. We have to introduce these standards and technology into common smart TV so that it possesses the properties of both a TV set and a movie player. Every TV set with synchronous cinema must be accredited by the China Motion Picture Quality Test Center in order for it to be a movie player.
In the process, we have made great efforts in terms of media safety, in order to ensure that the operator have no access to the original media before, amid or after the movie playing process. For example, what we are presented is the content packaged by DCP technology, which differs in essence with the new media viewing methods on the Internet. In the process, the operator has no access to the original media. Technologies such as individualized watermark are also applied. In a bid to realize such technological details, we have renovated the underlying system of the TVOS and the on-chip driver. With such technological improvement, the first innovation is made possible.
Second, based on the above-mentioned technology basis, we are able to realize the goal of synchronous cinema. In other words, after application of the technology, we can basically provide the same viewing environment at home movie theater as in traditional commercial theaters. If a new film released will be screened for 30 days at commercial theaters, then our technology can ensure the viewing of the film 8 days or less after its release at home movie theater. In practice, the viewing time at home does not need to overlap with that of theatrical trails in cinemas, as a number of commercial factors have to be considered. In this process, we have to tackle the issue of box office supervision and assess whether the showing process is in line with the related technical standards set up for movie box office management by the government. In the whole packaging process, the management and generation of the keys are not conducted by us, but by the China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology, which is a neutral institution sponsored by the government. It is in charge of the management plan of the keys. For the users, each key is like a ticket. In this way, we can realize the same high quality management of the box office and avoid some problems existing in commercial cinemas.
Problems arising from it is whether the synchronous cinema will pose a threat to commercial theatres? Based on our research, we found that the movie-goers in China tend to be younger people. According to a set of data, 95% of the consumers at commercial movie theaters are aged between 15 and 35. Most of them go to the theater out of social needs apart from viewing the movies themselves. The age groups are highly complementary with the users of TV in China, most of whom are aged below 15 and above 45. Second, at present, most of the movie theaters are concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, with few in small cities or villages. Thus, nearly 500 million people have no access to traditional theaters, yet TV is available for them. Therefore, our platform can solve the problem of urban-rural disparity in watching movies.
The third innovation is very interesting. People are used to the mode of buying ticket to watch a movie. Yet after the introduction of the Internet model, a new consumption pattern is generated—the audience does not need to buy tickets with synchronous cinemas. The platform has an advertisement channel, where the audience can watch the channel in exchange of a movie ticket. In this way, the advertisers buy the tickets for the audience. This is a new business model. From the perspective of box office revenue, it instead extends the scale of box office.
Three Dreams of Synchronous Cinema
Initially, when we began to develop the synchronous cinema, we reached a consensus with the leaders of China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology on carrying forward the three dreams of the Chinese filmmakers.
The first dream is to enable every Chinese to have access to movies. With the economic disparity in China, it is hard to imagine how can we build a commercial cinema and make profit in a region with a small population, especially when we consider the distinctive characteristics of commercial theatrical trails. Thus, it has always been the dream of Chinese filmmakers to enable the vast majority of Chinese farmers to have access to the Internet. Now, we can realize the dream through smart TV and synchronous cinema. That is because almost every family in China can afford a smart TV set.
The second dream is to let every star shine. At present, the number of new movies produced in China every year is about 500, yet only 30% of them can be screened at commercial theaters. It is the same case in the US, where only 1/3 of the 500 or 600 new movies can be screened at commercial theaters. As there is the rule that when a popular blockbuster film is released, all the theaters will favor it when arranging for showtimes, regardless of the number of screens of the cinema. So how to help films with lower budget to score better box office returns? Apart from commercial theaters, the synchronous cinema of smart TV can offer a better alternative. The platform of synchronous cinema allows all genres of films, whether art film, long-tail film, or films with niche market, to reach the audience and generate box office revenue.
The third dream is to enable the Chinese movies to go international. Nowadays, except for Hollywood, no country is able to cover the global market with its movie culture. Thus, this area has a very high threshold. How to enable our culture to go global? Our synchronous cinema has found a way. There is a huge number of smart TV sets exported by China each year. For example, last year, we exported over 15 million annually. If the synchronous cinema is equipped, then our cultural products can reach every household purchasing these smart TV sets in all countries, eliminating any intermediary parts. As a key project of the Silk Road Media Partnership Program initiated by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the synchronous cinema strives to introduce high quality Chinese movies overseas through home-made smart TV sets.
Significance of the synchronous cinema
Over the past two years, we have taken many concrete steps centered on the development and technical innovation of the synchronous cinema platform. First, we forged a strategic partnership with Mstar, the largest TV chip supplier in the world. Mstar changes the decoding driver into a chip driver on the basis of the synchronous cinema platform, which is extraordinary. Before that, Mstar only provides such technical service for Netflix. If the software is directly inserted into the chipset, then for the complete TV set producers, they no longer need to do technical matching, and the security can be improved. Mstar adopts the sophisticated DRM technology in order to support their video partners, which relies on the dual-CPU. Mstar mainly covers overseas market, accounting for 75% of the market of smart TV sets. The cooperation with Mstar paved a solid foundation for the future expansion of Chinese movies overseas. Second, since the beginning of the pilot program launched jointly with China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology on May 13, 2015, 8.06 million smart TV terminals have been developed, with the installation of the complete synchronous cinema technology. The data collected demonstrate a special characteristic: only 10% on the platform are first-tier cities; 49% are fourth-tier cities or rural regions, which are highly complementary with the current distribution of commercial cinemas.
From its launch, the synchronous cinema have released a large number of movies, most of which are of small budget and not favored by traditional movie theaters. So far, we have released over 100 movies on the platform and most of them made more box office revenue than they did offline.
In conclusion, I think the synchronous cinema is significant in the following three aspects, with economic and social values. First, synchronous cinema expands new forms of business in the movie industry, especially the “Internet +”. Practice has proven that the movie industry can make new breakthroughs through the application of “Internet +”. Second, it contributes to the expansion of distribution channels for home-made movies. On this platform, movies are shown on demand of the users, without exclusive competition. In theory, tens of hundreds of movies can be shown per day. We cannot rely merely on commercial blockbusters to encourage the development of the movie industry; instead, we need to diversify the types of movies with real artistic value. From this perspective, the synchronous cinema is of great significance. Third, to serve the Belt and Road Initiative and help Chinese movies go international.