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July 12, 2011

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Panel: Cartoons lack promotion and fresh ideas

CHINA'S animation industry lags behind the West because of a narrow audience base, poor marketing and promotion and lack of original ideas and innovation, according to Chinese and Western film makers.

An animation "summit" titled "Trump Card for Box Office Receipts" was a brainstorming session on strategies to develop China's animation industry. The meeting was part of the 7th International Animation, Cartoon and Games Expo that concluded yesterday in Shanghai.

"A number of problems confront domestic producers and promoters, ranging from the audience and ticket prices to screening places and promotion methods," said Yu Jie, deputy general manager of Toonmax Media Co Ltd. Toonmax produced the Chinese franchise "Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf," a box-office animation hit.

"Chinese animation films mainly target kids aged between four and 14 years old, and we should expand the target group to include their family members," Yu said.

Her view was shared by Gao Shouzhi, general manager of ComInsight EN Consultant Co.

"It's important to expand the target group to adults and Chinese film makers should go abroad to learn from their overseas counterparts," Gao said.

Last year, 16 domestic animated films earned around 200 million yuan (US$30.9 million) at the box office, but they only accounted for 1.3 percent of the market share in China's cinemas.

In recent years, Chinese animation films have not been widely distributed, except for "The Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf" franchise.

Gao said problems include a lack of talented people with a sense of innovation, lack of good scripts and poor sales and promotion.

The lowest ticket price for cartoon films ranges between 10 and 20 yuan, compared with 30 to 35 yuan for standard cinema, and cartoons are not screened during prime viewing hours, Yu said.

Film makers should tap the potential of second-and third-tier cities, she said.

Lack of promotion is a big problem. Promotion channels are limited because children' don't recommend films they have watched through new media outlets such as weibo, said to be China's equivalent of Twitter.

Children watch TV but promotion costs are TV are high. To address this problem, Toonmax worked with domestic food producers such as China Mengniu Dairy Co to print its cartoon figures on milk packages. The company also developed fun activities to attract children, such as a poster design contest. It also invited children to propose the titles of films.

Picking the best release time is very important.

Last year, Toonmax, producer of "Seven Arhat," learned that "Aftershock," which depicted the aftermath of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, would start screening on July 22.

But the company decided not to change their July 23 release date because they believed that laughter and tears should mix during summer vacation, Yu said.

Gao said 3D and IMAX films are the future of animation films and will boost the competitive edge of cartoons.

Australian producer Barry Plews said major problems in the Chinese film industry were lack of originality and imagination. He said there were not enough interesting stories.


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