Accessing The Chinese Entertainment Market

Mandarin/Putonghua: 1.3 billion. Cantonese: 80 million. Those are the number of speakers of the two main Chinese languages. Even if you remove the very young and people who don't own a TV or go to the cinema the total for each is still vast.

Posted on May 25, 2017 by Corinna  | Tags: blog, Asia, Localization

According to the PwC report, China entertainment and media outlook 2016-2020, income from cinema alone is set to rise from $2,150m in 2011 to well over $15,000m in 2020, the vast majority of this from box office receipts rather than advertising. The same report suggests that total TV and video revenue ($8,850m in 2011 rising to $27,063m in 2020) is on a similar upward trajectory. OTT and IPTV services are available or on the way, internet viewing is growing in general — most notably on mobile devices.

Sources: Ovum/Informa Telecoms & Media/PwC/European Audiovisual Observatory Workbook

PwC estimates that by the end of 2014 a TV signal reached 98.6% of the population. It’s a huge market, offering growing choice to consumers and high returns for the companies that service it. It’s also a demanding one. So if you’re required to localize a TV show for the Chinese market you’d better know what you’re doing.

Admittedly in a country of China’s size the population is not only large but diverse, with many ethnic and cultural groups, often speaking dialects that their fellow Chinese would not fully understand.

Hokkien, Hakka, Shanghainese and Pinghua are some of the better-known minority dialects — although ‘minority’ is a slightly misleading term; it can mean tens of millions of speakers in some cases. There are also many lesser known dialects and variants on the main languages.

Image credit: @nick_kapur, via That’s Magazine

Mandarin Chinese (known as Putonghua) is the official language. It’s also much more widely understood as the Chinese population becomes more mobile and more affluent.

Cantonese, however — used in the Guangdong province in southern China, as well as Macao and Hong Kong — is widely spoken enough to also be counted as essential when reaching Chinese audiences. It’s the language of many Chinese communities abroad, in places like San Francisco and London.

Although Cantonese shares much of its vocabulary with Mandarin, there are differences in pronunciation, grammar, sentence structure and commonly used terms.

A useful innovation in the 20th century was the introduction of a writing system for China using officially sanctioned Simplified Chinese characters. These have fewer strokes and are easier to write than Traditional Chinese, as it’s known. Many Chinese writers now use this form, and it is taught to most new students of Chinese, both foreign and Chinese-born.

That said, Taiwan and Hong Kong officially use Traditional Chinese characters in written output. And the small but important Taiwanese market uses a slightly different version of Mandarin, which requires some skilful adjustment by translators.

China’s growing audience for television, film and social media means by providing both Simplified and Traditional Chinese subtitles you will give your content the best possible chance of succeeding in the Chinese market. When it comes to dubbing you can focus more on the territory you wish to reach, providing Putonghua for China, Cantonese for Hong Kong and a localized version of Mandarin for Taiwan.

After all, when you have the chance to bring a hit show to hundreds of millions of people it’s nice to know that your work will have a receptive audience — almost anywhere.

At BTI we own 22 dubbing and subtitling facilities across Asia, Europe and the US, localizing into 50+ languages on a daily basis including Putonghua, Cantonese, Traditional, Mandarin and Taiwanese.

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