China's cinemas reopen, attracting rising movie-goers

By Xie Jun and Chi Jingyi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/26 20:43:40

Insiders say box office may recover in September or October

A CGV cinema in Hongkou district of Shanghai on July 20 (photo: Yang Hui/GT)

After cinemas in China were shut for six months due to the coronavirus epidemic, China's massive box office rebooted with hundreds of thousands of movie-goers heading to watch films at the cinemas last week. 

Industry insiders are optimistic about the recovery prospects of China's movie industry, with some predicting that the county's box office would resume to last-year's levels in a few weeks. However, movie industry employees highlighted the challenges faced by the sector, including high rent fees. 

The China Film Administration announced that movie theaters in low-risks areas could reopen on July 20 as long as precautions were taken to prevent infection risks; for example, they are only allowed 30 percent of their capacity. 

A Beijing resident told the Global Times that she went to see The Pursuit of Happyness Friday night at one of the city's cinema; however, as she was buying the tickets that afternoon, some of the movie's screenings had sold out at several locations. 

"The movie does not attract me that much because I've already seen it before, but I miss that feeling of watching movies in an actual cinema, so I decided to go and watch a film as soon as the cinemas reopened," she said. 

Luo Jiajie, manager at the Tianshan Cinema in Shanghai, said that occupancy at the cinema has been generally 50 percent of the total amount of tickets available in recent days, and there are around 500 audience members each day. 

"Actually we are quite satisfied with the customer numbers as we have just resumed business and the priority remains preventing the virus," she told the Global Times, adding that she has been worried about whether audiences wanted to come and watch movies at the cinemas after such a long closure, but the box office has exceeded her expectations. 

From July 20 to Friday, 3809 cinemas in China resumed services, with the number of movie showings and audience members reaching 76,208 and 353,657, respectively, according to media reports. 

Another employee at a Shanghai cinema said that about half of the movie theaters' 9 movie halls are closed. The tickets of some showings in the afternoon or night had sold out, while sometimes there were only "single-digit" customers. 

Industry insiders have different outlooks for the recovery. Li Jie, president of Alibaba Pictures, said Saturday that he's confident that China's box office will recover to two thirds of its usual level in two weeks. Luo also expected that the box office could resume to last year's levels in September or October. 

However, industry employees are not so optimistic. A manager of a film-making and distribution company, who declined to be named, told the Global Times that quite a few cinemas didn't survive as their capital chain broke during the lockdown period. 

"They failed for this reason and that - underestimating the epidemic, not having enough reserve capital or losing too many employees. This is an inevitable process of elimination," he said. 

Mo Zheng, a screenwriter, said that the survival of Chinese movie theaters hinges on their ability to pay rent. 

"Now, many cinemas make a loss of about 15,000 yuan ($2,140) each day they open, but only by opening can they hope to get back on track," Mo told the Global Times. 

The movie theaters' business resumption also comes at a time when China's home consumption is recovering supported by government stimulus plans. 

Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research, said that the reopening of cinemas is a signal of China's business resumption. "It will largely boost people's confidence in the domestic economy, as the movie industry often drives spending in dining-out and street shopping." 


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