Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International says China has become one of the most vital market for the Walt Disney company.
“China is incredibly important,” says Bird, talking at a media event for the Disney fan event D23 Expo in Los Angeles. “It’s where we have invested an enormous amount of time, people, resources and money, in growing our business over the last decades.”
Last year Disney was the most profitable studio in Hollywood for the third year running. It turned in a profit of 2.5 billion U.S. dollars. The studio grossed 7.6 billion dollars in global box office returns in 2016 – over 4.6 billion dollars of that came from the overseas market.
China is the world’s second-largest movie market. It has imported 74 Disney movies to date. Bird points out that strong story-telling has always been the bedrock of Disney’s success. “Good stories are universal,” he says. “Whether it’s Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, or Marvel’s Avengers. They are movies and stories that are popular among consumers in China, in Brazil, in France, in Italy, all over the world.”
The future for Disney in China lies not only in more movies coming to the cinemas. There will also be more awareness of relating to Chinese consumers. This could include using Chinese stories, bringing in Chinese actors or filming in China. “One of the interesting things is China also has interesting stories to tell,” says Bird.
Rogue One is seen as a good case of successful cooperation. “We have two of the stars in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – very big stars in China,” says Bird. “Now, we are doing the pre-production for a remake of Mulan, which gives an opportunity to have Chinese talents and also to use Chinese locations.”
It’s not just the movies that are turning gold. The Shanghai Disney Resort has exceeded Disney’s expectations (and all forecasts) in its first year with over 11 million admissions.
New attractions are already planned for the 963-acre resort. Disney says its priority is to expand the current resort rather than build a new resort in mainland China.
“We have enough land to dramatically expand Shanghai Disney Resort and add many new attractions, new lands,” says Bird. “You will see those start to develop over time, starting with Toy Story Land which has been constructed as we speak.”
Image: Shanghai Disney Resort