Time Warner CEO banks on 'Batman v. Superman,' Harry Potter spin-off and Chinese filmgoers

Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes is buoyant on Warner Bros. film prospects for the year, and he touted the growing strength of the Chinese film market, which last month eclipsed results in the U.S.

"China is the biggest theatrical film market now, it just got there, outside the United States," Bewkes said Tuesday said at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla.

Films produced blockbuster results in China in February, producing more than $1 billion in ticket sales, according to reports out of China. The month included the Lunar New Year holiday.

The North American industry, however, is expected to finish the year as the top film market.

Last year, U.S. ticket sales topped $11 billion while China's box office generated $6.8 billion in revenue. Analysts have predicted that China will become the world's largest market in 2017.

Contributing to the growth is that country's cinema-multiplex building boom. Last year, China counted about 32,000 cinema screens, up 40% from 2014.

"I believe the number of screens in China go up another 30% in the next 24 months," Bewkes said. "So [there is] tremendous growth there."

Last fall, Time Warner and China Media Capital formed a joint venture focused on producing and releasing local-language Chinese films. Bewkes said that partnership should be beneficial to the company through the production of Chinese films, as well as helping to get more Warner Bros. films into the country. 

Time Warner's chief was high on Warner Bros. prospects for this year. Warner Bros., which has long ranked as the biggest studio in Hollywood, has limped through a couple of disappointing years with several bombs at the box office.

This month, the studio will release "Batman v. Superman" and, in the summer, "Suicide Squad," with another set of DC Comics characters. Later in the year, Warner Bros. plans to release another project from "Harry Potter" creator J.K. Rowling called "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

"It's going to be a big profit growth year, it's going to be another record year, and this year ... it is going to be led by theatrical," Bewkes predicted. "We have a big slate of new franchise films coming out."

Bewkes noted that tentpole films over the last few years have taken a bigger share of the box office, which should bode well for the Burbank studio, which has several juggernaut franchises in its arsenal.

The video games unit produced strong results last year. Bewkes also praised the strong and steady results from Warner Bros. TV studio, which has long fed its shows to the major broadcast networks.

"It has been a perennial performer for us," Bewkes said. "There is increasing demand internationally and subscription video-on-demand... The global demand for TV programming continues."

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT


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