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BUSINESS & TECH

Moviemaking Culture Clash Raises Questions About Oriental DreamWorks’ Future

By April Ma

(Beijing) — Oriental DreamWorks, the $330 million joint venture between China and Hollywood, may be facing a reshuffling and downsizing as well-crafted Hollywood animations face a hard sell in China’s fast-moving film market.

“The Chinese animation industry has been actively adjusting in coordination with the restructuring in Hollywood,” said China Media Capital (CMC), the major Chinese stakeholder in Oriental DreamWorks. “CMC will conform to the market changes and continue to seek overseas collaboration with leaders in production, creativity and distribution,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

The statement followed a report from entertainment trade publication Variety last week that U.S. media group Comcast Corp. is in talks to give up the 45% stake that DreamWorks Animation, a Comcast subsidiary, has in Oriental DreamWorks. The joint venture has also reduced the number of employees by more than half from its peak of 250, the report said.

CMC’s statement did not mention the possibility of a change of owners, though it conceded it had begun outsourcing certain jobs. “We will maintain a stable headcount of over 100 staff,” the statement said.

Analysts said that Comcast may be backing out of the high-profile linkup because Hollywood’s meticulous and time-consuming production flow is antithetical to China’s impatient film market.

“China’s animation film market is still in many ways quite rudimentary, lacking skilled production personnel,” said Li Bin, editor-in-chief of a film industry news website.

“Film investors in China want to make quick cash and need to see returns within 18 months. That does not agree with Hollywood’s practice of often pouring three or four years into an animation,” Li said.

After the tie-up was founded five years ago by DreamWorks Animation, CMC, Shanghai Media group and two Shanghai government affiliated parties, it has achieved less-than-exceptional results. It has been involved in only four feature productions to date.

The partnership emerged from Kung Fu Panda 3, the recent second sequel in the Kung Fu Panda martial-arts comedy franchise. DreamWorks Animation originally saw the partnership as a way into the Chinese market, producing films that would better cater to the local audience, and as a way to establish its own distribution channel within the nation, according to a statement announcing its inception.

The film turned out to be a letdown, with $154 million in ticket revenues in China, while it was expected to pass the 2 billion yuan ($290) million mark, according to reports at the time.

Contact reporter April Ma (fangjingma@caixin.com)

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