《美国队长2：寒冬战士》（Captain America: The Winter Soldier）3月份在北京举行的首映式具备了热门大片的所有特征。年轻女孩们在红地毯边上兴奋地尖叫。一幅100英尺宽的大屏幕播放着这部影片配有中文字幕的剧情预告片。影片主演、饰演“美国队长”的克里斯•埃文斯和饰演“黑寡妇”的斯嘉丽•约翰逊在回答记者有关他们参观故宫及计划当晚与成龙共进晚餐的提问时极力掩饰时差反应。
后来发生了什么事情呢？那就是只可能发生在中国的飞速转变。优酷、搜狐（Sohu）、腾讯视频（ v.qq）以及许多其他视频网站现在都已经成为好莱坞的诚实合作伙伴。他们每年通过内容授权协议向好莱坞各大影视公司支付数千万美元，帮助CBS（哥伦比亚广播公司）的《破产姐妹》（2 Broke Girls）和奈飞公司（Netflix）的《纸牌屋》（House of Cards）等不一定有把握成功的电视节目建立粉丝群。在线播放美国顶级电影虽然仍处于早期阶段，但显然是下一个重大的机遇。
哥伦比亚电影公司总裁道格•贝尔格莱德说：“中国市场的增长势头相当迅猛。”过去三年以来，这家公司的母公司索尼影视娱乐公司（t Sony Pictures Entertainment）已经与差不多10家中国视频网站签署了在线播放授权协议。贝尔格莱德说：“我们正在相当积极地对我们的电影库加以授权。”
搜狐最终在那桩诉讼案中获胜，而中国最大的视频网站优酷进而开始注重建立正版内容库。由于对盗版抢走潜在观众的担忧情绪趋于消失，所有视频网站在2010年至2012年期间都对新节目投入了巨资。去年，优酷购买了ABC（美国广播公司）的《摩登家庭》（Modern Family）和BBC（英国广播公司）的《神探夏洛克》（Sherlock）等30个西方国家电视节目的播放权。腾讯视频最近添加了电影《饥饿游戏2：星火燎原》（Hunger Games: Catching Fire）和《大梦想家》（Saving Mr. Banks），同时在今年3月份表示，为了提高市场份额，将在视频内容方面增加一倍的支出。搜狐在购得美国电视综艺节目《周六夜现场》（Saturday Night Live）、电视连续剧《绝命毒师》（Breaking Bad）和《纸牌屋》的播放权之后，消息在美国和中国都引发了媒体关注。
但障碍依然存在，那就是中国的审查机构。各大视频网站竞相播放西方国家影视节目的这股热潮引起了中国监管机构的注意，中国监管部门直到最近为止一直给予各大网站播放几乎任何视频内容的自由空间。今年4月下旬，中国国有媒体报道说，四部美国连续剧将在流媒体网站上遭到禁播，其中包括《生活大爆炸》（The Big Bang Theory）、《律师本色》（The Practice）、《海军罪案调查处》（NCIS）以及《傲骨贤妻》（The Good Wife）。据一位业内人士表示，此举很可能是中国政府在控制网络视频的战争中发起的第一轮大规模攻势。自从2009年以来，中国政府一直试图控制网络视频。
但审查制度不可能大获成功，部分原因在于，西方视频内容在中国观众当中广受欢迎。北京索福瑞媒介研究有限公司（CSM Media Research）的梅勒妮•黄说，中国年轻观众对西方电影和节目的着迷是出了名的，而这有充分的理由：西方国家的电影和电视节目不仅制作质量高于中国本土影视内容，而且可以成为一种身份的象征。告诉你的中国朋友你在看《纸牌屋》不仅意味着你精通英语，而且还意味着你对外面的世界感兴趣。
Last month's Beijing premiere of Captain America: The Winter Soldier had all the hallmarks of a blockbuster. Young girls screamed along the red carpet. A 100-foot-wide screen broadcast the film's dramatic trailer, complete with Chinese subtitles. The stars of the sequel, Chris Evans as Captain America and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, tried to hide signs of jetlag as they answered press questions about visiting the Forbidden City and their dinner plans with Jackie Chan later that night.
Disney (DIS) is the U.S. company that was behind the release of the superhero flick -- but it was the Chinese video site Youku Tudou that staged the Beijing premiere. Youku, once known as the YouTube of China, spent weeks building hype for the Captain America sequel (the Chinese translation is "American team leader") with a blitz of behind-the-scenes interviews and promotional ties-in. Its site will stream the film later this year.
Just a few years ago, a partnership between a Hollywood studio and Chinese video site would have been unimaginable. Many of the Chinese sites, Youku in particular, hosted so many pirated versions of U.S. television shows and films that Hollywood regularly sent armies of lawyers to China to complain.
What has happened since is a transformation so rapid that it could only happen in China. Youku, Sohu, Tencent's v.qq, and many other video sites are now bonafide partners with Hollywood. They send tens of millions of dollars a year to studios through content licensing deals, helping to build fan bases in China for television shows as unlikely as CBS's 2 Broke Girls and Netflix's House of Cards. Streaming top U.S. movies, still in the early stages, is the next major opportunity.
"Growth in China is pretty explosive," says Doug Belgrad, head of Columbia Pictures, whose parent Sony Pictures Entertainment (SNE) has signed streaming deals with almost 10 Chinese video sites over the past three years. "We're being fairly aggressive in licensing our library," Belgrad says.
To foster improved relationships with Hollywood, the Chinese sites first had to overcome privacy. They did so by fighting each other. Sohu, which started as a search engine, was part of a group that sued Youku in 2009 to protect the licensed Chinese content it was buying. The money at stake is massive -- this year, ads that run with online video in China are expected to pull in $3 billion in sales.
Sohu ultimately prevailed in that case, and Youku, the country's biggest video site, went on to focus on building a library of legal content. All of the sites spent heavily on new shows between 2010 and 2012 as the fear of losing potential viewers to piracy evaporated. In the last year, Youku has bought rights for 30 Western shows like ABC's Modern Family and BBC's Sherlock. Tencent's v.qq recently added the films Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Saving Mr. Banks and in March said it would double spending on video content to boost market share. Sohu made headlines in the U.S. and China after acquiring rights to the television series Saturday Night Live, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards.
But hurdles remain, namely in the form of Chinese censors. The rush for Western shows has attracted attention from China's regulators, who until recently gave the sites leeway to broadcast almost anything. In late April, the Chinese state-owned press reported that four U.S. shows would be blocked from the streaming sites, including The Big Bang Theory, The Practice, NCIS, andThe Good Wife. The move was probably the government's first major salvo in the war to control online video, which it has been attempting to do since 2009, according to one industry insider.
But censorship is unlikely to go very far, in part because Western content is hugely popular among Chinese viewers. Younger viewers are known to obsess over the movies and shows, and for good reason: Not only is the production quality better than what's offered in Chinese, but Western movies and TV can become a status symbol, says Melanie Huang of CSM Media Research in Beijing. Telling your Chinese friends you watch House of Cards not only means you are proficient in English, but also that you have interest in the outside world.