Microfilms come up shortly

Updated: 2012-05-21 07:55

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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Revenue generation

Microfilms may generate a large number of Internet hits, but they are hopeless at generating revenue. China's online population has an aversion to paying for digital content and that means commercial sponsors have become involved.

Most websites fund their microfilm programs with money from advertisers, such as Youku partnering with the electronics company Philips or Sina with Samsung. The advertisers get their money's worth through product placement.

Microfilms come up shortly

Zhu Yuchen (left) and Zhang Jingchu in a scene from the quartet of works produced by the Hong Kong-based filmmaker Ho-Cheung Pang. Provided to China Daily

As China's regulators crack down on television commercials, limiting their running time, the number of spots available has been greatly reduced and rates have shot up. Meanwhile, television viewers are migrating en masse toward the Internet, where their favorite soaps are streamed without any technical or commercial hiccups or a weeklong wait for the next episode. Chinese advertisers have found a new niche in the form of online microfilms.

Websites also have an incentive to embrace microfilms, because television shows that used to charge a nominal licensing fee have greatly increased their prices.

A typical work can cost as little as 10,000 yuan ($1,600) or as much as 1 million, according to Hu Ge, whose short film The Bloody Case of a Steamed Bun, a 2006 spoof of director Chen Kaige's epic movie Promise, is considered a precursor to the current wave of microfilms.

The Orange Hotel chain spent 30,000 yuan on its first advertising film, which took one week to produce. The five-minute film was watched 400,000 times in the week it was uploaded and was forwarded 10,000 times, said Chen Zhong, the chain's marketing manager. The hotel's whole series of 12 shorts cost no more than 1 million yuan.

Statistics like this have prompted many companies to jump onto the microfilm bandwagon. But they are also driving most works into the realms of the unwatchable. "Even television commercials can be made interesting," lamented Ho-Cheung Pang, who has been a juror at the Tudou Festival three times. "But so many microfilms look so cheap with their commercial messages and images."

Many advertisers insist on prominent product placements, stipulating details such as each character must be given a close-up shot, holding the product or repeating its slogan. The intrusive commercialism has upset many Chinese viewers. The Beijing News recently described the future of the microfilm as being "hijacked" by advertisers. The Southern Weekly summed up its fate as "born in parody and dying in an overkill of commercials". Hou Zhihui of Funshion said too much advertising is simply "smothering" the genre.

"The microfilm is a Chinese-style gimmick," said film director Zhao Tianyu. "Advertisers want to enhance the appeal of their commercials and websites need a nifty name. It has a story, acting and details, so it should be more alluring."

But the genre may falter before it grows to maturity as it falls victim to a vicious circle. You need money to make a good movie, money that only advertisers are willing to put up. But once the advertiser's intent is incorporated, it generally downgrades the quality of the movie, making it less appealing and also less effective as advertising. Consumers are quickly losing interest in this new form of entertainment, said Ling Ping, a producer and also an editor with an advertising publication.

Huayi Brothers, a heavyweight film and television production company, recently announced that it will partner China Telecom in launching a pay-channel for microfilms. But not everyone is bullish about the prospects for revenue.

Meanwhile, the Chopsticks Brothers are still reaping the rewards from their knockout movie. A stage version of Old Boy will come to Beijing in June, and a television series is also in the pipeline. More importantly for them, their debut feature film is in the works.

Contact the reporter at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn

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