Chinese company sponsors Grauman’s Chinese Theater

By Pei Li

Grauman's Chinese Theater is now official sponsored as TCL Chinese Theater. (Lindsay Ivins)

Grauman’s Chinese Theater is now named TCL Chinese Theater. (Lindsay Ivins)

The world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood has finally justified its name by adding a Chinese element.

TCL, a Chinese electronics and technology company, purchased the naming rights of the theater for 10 years starting in January 2013, marking it “TCL Chinese Theater.”

But how effective the deal will be in bringing recognition to TCL is yet to be seen.

Shaik Rahul, who works at a tour agency booth near the theater, said he first thought the naming symbolized the change of ownership of the theater. Asked several times by people from the mall what TCL is when the theater was putting the new name on, all he could answer is that it is a Chinese company that manufactures electronics like television.

Tourists may not know the new name, but many are familiar with the long-standing L.A. icon. The Chinese Theater first opened in 1927 and has been home to many premieres, including the 1977 launch of George Lucas’ Star Wars, as well as birthday parties, corporate junkets and three Academy Awards ceremonies.

Featuring its Chinese temple-like architecture, with a dragon entrance and two stone lions guarding the gate, TCL Chinese Theater attracts 4 million tourists every year. Forty-three movies launched their premiers in this theater in 2012, while nine have launched so far in 2013.

“The Chinese Theater is always the trailblazer to innovate and upgrade with the latest technology. We were the first in the world to use cinemiracle in the 1950s, the first to apply 3D in the new century and so on,” said Levi Tinker, a historian of the theater, “We believe the Chinese Theater is the perfect match for TCL, a technology company that seeks to compete in the world market.”

After the naming of the theater, TCL is helping the theater upgrade with a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screen, a new extra-wide screen, stadium seating, superior sound and projection systems, and a new box-office marquee on Hollywood Boulevard.

“The milestone relationship between TCL and the Chinese Theatre will allow us to do many of the upgrades and the preservation projects we earmarked,” said Donald Kushner, who currently owns the theater with another partner.

TCL also saw benefits in the naming deal.

“As a fast-emerging and innovative global electronic brand, the landmark cooperation between TCL and Chinese Theater will not only extend the glamor of the theater in the capital of entertainment, but also bring in the latest technology of TCL, and promote the TCL brand on a global stage,” said Dongsheng Li, president of TCL.

Though TCL has no previous investment in the entertainment industry, the Chinese company is experienced in exerting marketing strategies for Hollywood movies. For example, it imbedded advertising in the Avengers, Cloud Atlas, Transformer 3, Batman 3 and others.

In an international electronics exhibition in Las Vegas after signing the naming deal, Li announced that TCL product would appear in the upcoming Iron Man, which stars Robert Downey Jr., as the Iron Man.

Despite TCL’s high-profile publicity in China about the naming deal, it is uncertain whether the deal will help TCL to achieve its goal in Hollywood.

Even some Chinese could not recognize the change of the name.

Jianxin Ma, who was originally from China and currently lives in Canada, said he did not realize the prefix of TCL before the Chinese Theater until the reporter told him.

“It is very normal in the U.S. to see a change of names. I don’t think people here really care what TCL is. To me, it is like dumping the coins into the river without even hearing the flopping of the water,” said Ma.

Kai Wang, a local resident of Los Angeles who was showing his friends from China around the theater, said he had not heard of the name change.

“This kind of advertising is still very primitive and a lack of creativity,” said Wang, “I would suggest a smarter way to promote the brand instead of simply naming the theater with a bundle of money.” He compared the naming of the theater against the creative TV commercials by companies like Samsung.

Jie Chen, vice president of the All-American Chinese Youth Federation, said Chinese companies that seek to carry out business overseas need to be practical, rather than spending extravagantly on what he called publicity stunts.

“Should there be any provision relating to public welfare, like providing free use of the theater for local philanthropic groups or the Chinese community, it might achieve an unexpected effect,” said Chen.

Some also point out that the logo of TCL may be too small to be seen.

“The Chinese Theater is a mainly a tourist spot with limited space,” said Xiao Hu, vice chairman of the Southern California Chinese Public Diplomacy Promotion Association.

“Without a conspicuous logo, the tourists might not have the time, and would not pay special attention to the naming company of the theater,” he added.