China Opens Its Market to American Movies—While Cracking Down on Television

It is, of course, a good thing for the American movie industry that China and America have resolved their dispute over market access, and the number of American movies released in China is set to rise from 20 to 14. That’s not huge overall compared to the number of movies that come out of American studios every year, but ut Chinese moviegoers spent $2 billion at the box office last year, and that number’s supposed to rise by 20 percent this year.

There are limitations, of course—those 14 movies all have to be Imax or 3D editions of movies. So the pictures that can make it overseas are somewhat limited by what the studios are already shooting in those formats or willing to convert, and that likely means more big blockbusters rather than small but clever indies. I’m torn between wanting to see more of that money come back to American moviemakers and knowing that it’ll likely increase the profit margins on precisely the movies that don’t need the extra proof that they’re successful. Maybe I can have it both ways, and those jacked-up margins will give studios a little more permission to experiment with smart original ideas because they’ll have more of a cushion to absorb those projects if they fail.

It’s also worth a reminder that at the same time that China’s opening up its movie market, it’s banned all imported television during primetime broadcasts and issued new regulation saying that no channel can have more than a quarter of its programming be imported. Abiding by one World Trade Organization ruling doesn’t mean that China’s given up on trying to protect the growth of its domestic entertainment industry. And it doesn’t mean the regime’s about to let in a lot of entertainment that might undermine the values it’s trying to promote. If I was trying to maintain a vaguely Communist economic system, I’d be a lot more concerned about the plucky entrepreneurialism of 2 Broke Girls than the loud and goofy fantasies of the Transformers movies.