How Many Import Slots Does Each Studio Get?

Since 2012, when Chinese film regulators loosened their annual revenue-sharing import quota to thirty-four films per year, through the end of 2016, Hollywood’s “Big Six” studios — Walt Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures — have released a combined one hundred and forty-five films.

Many casual observers of the Chinese film industry and even some working within it believe quota spots are given out evenly amongst Hollywood studios, yet data shows that a studio’s output in China can vary widely from year-to-year. Three times over the past five years, a studio has been able to release eight films in a given year, the current record: Sony in 2012, Fox in 2014, and Disney in 2016. Meantime, Universal received only two import slots in 2014, and many of the others have received in various years just three import licenses.

The total number of films released over the past five years also fluctuates by studio. Fox leads the way with thirty total films — an average of six per year — while Paramount and Universal have only released nineteen, averaging less than four.

The reasons for these unequal numbers would not seem to correlate directly with a given studio’s ability to create franchises that score with Chinese audiences; rather, a studio’s ability to build relationships and create goodwill with local power players can tip the scales and open up more opportunities for success. Last year, for example Disney scored a record eight releases, including six day-and-date titles—was it a coincidence that over the same period, they launched a Shanghai Disney theme park, which happens to be 57% owned by the state-backed enterprise Shanghai Shendi Group?