Exploring the Structural Changes of Chinese Film Co-production Network under the Influence of Digital Capital


In the post-industrial society, inter-organizational collaboration is a more flexible approach to integrating various recourses for media production. Taking the film industry in China as an example, the majority of theatrical films are made by more than two companies rather than independently. This collaboration turns out to form a networked production field. Within the network, the nodes are production companies, which are connected by co-production relationships. With the expansion of digital capital, newcomers have emerged in this field, which are Internet companies. The digital companies take advantage of the economic capital and digital recourses to expand their structural power, challenging the established structures of this field.

The aim of this study is to examine the structural changes in the film production field of China and the impact of the co-production teams' structural properties on the economic success of the movies they produced. We tested our hypotheses by analyzing the co-production network of film studios and digital companies whose films were released between 2008 and 2016. The structural properties were analyzed by using social network analysis. And the impact of the structural properties on financial performance was examined by regression models.

Relying on social network analysis, the first part of the study examined the structural evolution of the co-production network. The results showed that the Internet companies, especially the digital giants, had replaced the state-owned studios to become the incumbents of the field which controlled the dominant positions in the network. The digital companies have experienced three stages when they moved from the periphery to the center: the stable period, the transition period and the transformation period. The second part of the study analyzed the impact of the companies' structural positions on the box office of the films they produced. The results suggested that centrality and spanning structural holes could lead to economic success. These findings showed that the social capitals, especially those that could encourage innovation, had a positive influence on the financial performance.

Our findings indicate that power and resources tend to be centralized in the actual collaboration between digital companies and film studios in China. Relying on their economic resources, digital giants occupied the dominant positions in the production field, accumulating their social capital. And this social capital, in return, enhanced their economic capital. Based on the findings, we also discuss the gap between the industrial reality and the 'digital myth' constructed by digital giants.