中国能够革新吗? ——看中国的海外投资、虚拟现实VR和创意产业如何改造中国

作者:Philipp Grefer

可以说在中国,你基本上能在近期的的五年计划里找到共产党的野心、梦想或目标。清华大学国情研究院院长胡鞍钢教授强调:在十三五计划中,如果有一件事最为重要,那就是“创新”。

为了实现这一创新,政府增加了对研究与开发的支出,(根据OECD的报告,到2019年,中国将代替美国和欧洲成为在研究发展上花费最高的国家/地区),并在试图改革国家现行的教育制度。但当高额的研究经费在吸引人才、改革中国教育制度的同时,从死记硬背的应试教育转换到创新素质教育,将是一个更严峻的挑战。在此期间,自1978年以来,4百万中国留学生(仅2015年一年就高达50万)正在以每年百分之70到80的比例,被非常诱人的薪水吸引回国,会在一定程度上填补中国的“教育鸿沟”。

事实上,令中国最知名的科技投资者之一徐小平感到惋惜的是:中国家长以牺牲孩子的天分为代价来满足他们对于高考的热情。并批判在中国的产品和服务“缺乏灵魂”时,很多问题被简单的从海外购买版权和“灵魂”解决:“因为疲于应付专利权费用和版税问题,中国企业在政府的支持下,加大突破性的创新能力的购买量,而不是通过租赁(窃取)或是引进技术和人才来解决的。” ,《哈佛商业报道》这样写道。尽管报道中指出了中国如何在未来加强其创新能力,却被讽刺地名为 国为何中国不能创新?”

如此,便引出了我们这次的话题:

中国对外直接投资

正如中金公司的Sophie Yu在NEU中国的演讲中提到的,中国近年来的FDI正在急速上升。在2016上半年,就已经超过了1000亿美金,自2014年来每年都以翻倍的速度在成长。

而此前,中国的投资多数投向原材料或高端制造企业,在过去两年里,出现了向创意和科技方向的投资转型。

以中国游戏公司昆仑科技为例,(笔者曾在昆仑就职,而Sophie则为昆仑最近在英国的投资提供咨询),于女士称之为“数十亿美元公司的新一代”。似乎很多西方人并没有听说过昆仑,而它早已经成为了一个复杂有经验的横跨中国与海外市场的投资者,旗下产品兼容了社交网络、网络广播、P2P和网络安全领域。与社交网络巨擎腾讯类似,昆仑主要依靠网络游戏盈利,这产生的现金流足够支撑他们在其他领域的扩张。昆仑的策略帮助他们在2015年2月深圳股票交易所的IPO中获得了超过5倍的市值。

 

VR/AR —— 新的前沿与创新催化剂?

目前中国的公司在已知领域和他们的西方榜样们玩着追逐者的游戏,并从Joseph Schumpeter所称的后来者优势中获益。然而,新兴产业如AR或VR给他们提供了和西方竞争者几乎等同的新起点。到2020年,预计该产业的世界市场总额会由2016年的52亿美金到1620亿美金(来源:IDC),而中国的VR产业总额从2016年的8.6亿美元增长到2020年的85亿(来源:iiMedia)。所以昆仑最近在加利福尼亚州设立了Kunlun AI也并不奇怪。

这也是为什么昆仑最近建立了以加利福尼亚为基础的 昆仑人工智能,而它的同行们也在投资这些技术。另一方面,腾讯投资8000万人民币(约1200万美元)在ZANADU,VR铅旅行经验的世界领导者。由中国发言人吴瓒牵头,告诉观众华为是如何成为一个´中国最大的手机制造商的,计划发布的魅族8手机包装与虚拟现实护目镜仅今年就推出1500万件,他希望在2016年底会有5000万个虚拟用户。所有主要的分销平台如腾讯、优酷、爱奇艺-每超过中国和1000万付费用户3亿用户以及耳机制造商;华为、小米和宝丰在试图进入分配者的游戏,只是在等待的新媒体的大势。然而,这些公司所奠定的分销管道,需要内容性强。这是最主要的问题:

 

内容匮乏?

NEU的发言人、世界领先的运动捕捉的公司Noitom的副总裁陈楸帆,还没有看到一个“杀手级应用”的出现。这时上海纽约大学的教授Christian Grewell提到,虚拟现实VR设备的进入壁垒价格仍然很高。然而,在这个非常时刻,许多更先进的内容是在中国或国外生产的(HTC Vive X 加速器刚在北京开幕,其他玩家提到他们已在VR内容制作方面抛下巨额投资),而使用VR的主要硬件,价格在不断下降。

所以当一个“杀手级应用”最终以平易近人的价格冲击市场的时候,我们没有理由认为VR不应该用AR之于口袋妖怪的方式迅速扩张。每天,都会出现类似于美国最近宣布与上海传媒集团的出现短途VR的伙伴关系,房地产开发商开放空间的虚拟商场和公司,爱奇艺宣布VR作为未来业务的核心这些关于投资和VR合作的新闻。

中国,以其14亿人口中8亿的月活跃的微信用户(来源:腾讯2016年6月30日)有一个相当长的历史视频游戏在网吧或家中(据中国互联网络信息中心数据,有3亿9100万的用户在中国2015和在线游戏的收入预计将增长到2510亿元人民币(约在线视频游戏370亿美元)(iResearch提供),在非一线或二线城市和人口众多的娱乐选项中,无论是年轻人还是老年人,贫穷还是富有都不惧怕在兴早期采用新技术,这应该成为发展的中心。

“在中国,这样的创意产业仍然处在萌芽时期。基础设施尚未完善,但人们已经对此表现出极大的兴趣了。”Sophie Yu说。如果中国有能力在传统或新媒体行业创造出有趣的内容,不止是对国人有吸引力,并且能传播到国外的话,或许中国可以决定新生事物的走向而非随波逐流。在这期间,国内外的公司同样享有这种新媒体带来的庞大机遇,或者至少可以从中国投资者那里获得巨额的资本注入,这分明是一个巨大的商机。

 

Christian Grewell, Sophie Yu 和David Ball,均对本文作出贡献

Can China Innovate? How Chinese Overseas Investment, Virtual Reality and the Creative Industries might reform China

by Philipp Grefer

 

Whatever China´s, or as one might argue – the Chinese Communist Party’s - ambitions, dreams or goals might be - you can usually find them in the current five year plan. To paraphrase Professor Hu Angang, Dean of the School of Contemporary China Beijing´s elite Tsinghua University and a key thinker in state theory: If you only remember one thing from the latest 13th five year plan (2016-2020) it should be “innovation”. To achieve this innovation, the government is increasing its spending on research & development (according to an OECD report China will overtake the US and Europe as the biggest spender on R&D by 2019) and trying to reform its education system. But while higher R&D expenditure might attract top talent, reforming China´s education system, with its strong focus on rote memorization and teaching to the test, will be a much harder task. In the meantime, the 4 million Chinese students who have studied abroad since 1978 (half a million in 2015 alone) and who are returning at a rate of about 70-80% in recent years, and are often lured back by very competitive salaries, may help to fill the “education gap”. Indeed, while Xu Xiaoping, one of China´s best known tech investors laments Chinese parents’ obsession with the Gaokao (higher-education exam) at the expense of an innate passion for their children, and criticises the “lack of soul” in Chinese products and services, some of China´s woes in this sector might be cured by simply buying knowledge and “soul” from abroad: “Tired of paying licensing fees and royalties, Chinese firms have increasingly, and with their government’s encouragement, sought to buy, rather than rent (or steal), breakthrough innovation capabilities through acquisitions of both technology and talent” writes the Harvard Business Journal in its analysis, which, despite pointing out how China is strengthening future innovation capabilities, is ironically titled “Why China Can´t Innovate”.

This brings us to a related topic:

 

CHINESE FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT (FDI)

As Sophie Yu from CICC elaborated in her NEU China speech there has been a steep increase in Chinese FDI in recent years. In the first half of 2016 it has already surpassed USD 100 billion and has been doubling every year since 2014.

While previously, Chinese investment was mostly directed towards raw materials or high end-manufacturing companies, in the last two years a shift towards investment in more creative and tech companies has taken place.

 

Take Chinese gaming company Kunlun Tech as an example (disclosure: this author worked at Kunlun and Yu advised the company on a recent investment in the UK), which Yu describes as “one of a new generation of multibillion dollar companies”. It’s likely that very few westerners have ever heard of Kunlun, yet it already became a sophisticated investor with stakes in both domestic and international companies across social media, live broadcasting, P2P and internet security web-sectors. Similar to social media behemoth Tencent (Weibo, WeChat, QQ etc) Kunlun makes most of its money from (online) gaming, which generates enough cash flow to allow it to expand into other areas. Thei strategy of Kunlun got rewarded with its IPO in February 2015 on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange with a market cap of $5bn+ today. 

 

VR / AR - THE NEW FRONTIER AND A DRIVER OF INNOVATION?

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So far Chinese companies have been playing “catch up” with their western counterparts in already existing industries, leveraging what Joseph Schumpeter calls the “latecomer´s advantage: the ability to learn from and improve on the work of one´s immediate predecessors”. However, emerging industries such as AR or VR provide them with an almost level playing field with their western competitors right from the start. With a projected worldwide revenue of $162 billion USD by 2020 up from 5.2 billion in 2016 (source: IDC), China´s VR market is projected to grow from $860 million in 2016 to $8.5 billion by 2020 (Source: iiMedia). It is no wonder then that Kunlun, who recently set up California based Kunlun AI, and its peers are also investing in these technologies. As another case in point, Tencent invested 80 million RMB (around 12 million USD) in a Series A Round in ZANADU, the world leader in VR lead travel experiences, headed by NEU China speaker Wu Zan. Zan told the audience how Huawei, one of China´s biggest cellphone makers, is planning to ship 15 million units of its Meizu 8 phone packaged with VR Goggles this year alone and he expects there to be 50 million VR users by the end of 2016. All the major distribution platforms like Tencent, Youku, IQiyi - each with more than 300 million users in China and 10 million premium subscribers - as well as headset makers; Huawei, Xiaomi and Baofeng who are also trying to enter the distribution game, are just waiting for the new medium to take off. However, the distribution pipes laid by these companies need to be filled with content. Herein lies the problem at the moment:

 

LACK OF CONTENT?!

 

NEU speaker Stanley Chen, VP of Noitom, the world’s leading motion capture company, has not seen a “killer app” emerge yet, while Christian Grewell, professor at New York University in Shanghai, mentioned the still very high prices of VR equipment as an entry barrier to VR. However, at this very moment a plethora of ever more advanced content is being produced either in China or abroad (the HTC Vive X accelerator just opened in Beijing and the other players mentioned have been making huge investments in VR content), while the prices for the necessary hardware to use VR are constantly decreasing. So when a “killer app” finally hits a market with consumer friendly prices, there is not much reason to think why VR shouldn’t explode the same way AR did with Pokémon Go. Every day, news about more investments or VR partnerships, such as the recent announcement of US based Jaunt VR’s partnership with Shanghai Media Group appears, while real estate developers open their spaces to VR Arcades and companies such as IQiyi announce VR as the core of their future business.

China, with its 1.4 billion population of which 800 million are monthly active WeChat users (source: Tencent June 30, 2016) has a relatively long history of video gaming in Internet Cafes or at home (according to CNNIC, there were 391 million users playing online video games in China in 2015 and online game revenue is expected to grow to 251 billion RMB (approx. 37 billion USD) as suggested by IResearch), a lack of entertainment options in non first- or second tier cities and a populous - be it young or old, poor or rich -  that is not afraid to early adopt new technologies, should be at the centre of this development.

“The creative industries in China are still in their infancy. The infrastructure is not quite there yet, but people are hungry for content” says Sophie Yu. If China is able to create interesting content, for old or new media, which is not only attractive to its own population, but also worldwide, might well decide if China can take the lead in innovation instead of just following it.

In the meantime, there is a huge opportunity for both foreign and domestic companies to create content for this new medium, or at least acquire huge injections of capital from Chinese investors on a shopping spree.

 

With contributions from Christian Grewell, Sophie Yu & David Ball