Before reading chapter 7 of ‘Spreadable Media,’ I hadn’t put much thought into the practice of media piracy in developing nations. I attended college in Beijing in the mid-90s, when pirated media could be purchased on any street corner. I believed the only effect of that was to make money for the vendor.
I had no concept that what it was doing was fostering a demand for American media, a demand that has now focused Hollywood’s attention on the Middle Kingdom.
China’s economy has grown into an economic powerhouse. Those consumers who bought a pirated DVD in the late 90s are now purchasing movie tickets to Transformers 4.
To encourage this, Hollywood production companies are now including China-centric content into films. For example, Transformers 4 is full of set pieces set in China, has some famous Chinese actors and even Chinese product placement. The result of this was Transformers 4 obliterating box office records in China.
Before that, Iron Man 3 was co-produced by a Chinese entertainment company DMG, and elements and scenes were added to the film to appeal to Chinese audiences.
Critics argued that the scenes added to the Chinese version were pointless to the plot, and that the appearance of ‘pandering’ to Chinese audiences was insulting. Others believed that the film’s artistic integrity was compromised by changes to satisfy government censors.
Despite the criticism, It’s easy to see that piracy in a transnational world can ironically lead to greater profit for those very companies that sought to squash it.