Coronavirus to cut cinema revenues by 50% in 2020: insider
Published: Mar 18, 2020 10:03 PM

Visitors watch a movie at a dome theatre in a planetarium in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 14, 2019. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

Cinemas in China are seeing signs of reopening after being closed for almost two months amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but a limited film supply and the public's reluctance to attend movies before the virus vanishes might still halve the full-year revenue for the domestic box office.

Seen as cheering news for industry players, several cinemas in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region resume operation earlier this week. Xinjiang has not seen new confirmed cases for 29 days.

An employee surnamed Wang in Renmin Cinema in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the cinema reopened on Monday, but only a few customers came.

"We have had no more than 10 customers so far," Wang said, and while the weekend might be busier, the number of audience is expected not to surpass 100.

Disinfection is required after each showing, customers need to book tickets and select seats online, and viewers must sit one or two seats separately for safety reasons, Wang said.

According to, an online film ticket selling platform in China, five cinemas have reopened in Urumqi. More cinemas in East China's Fujian Province and Northwest China's Qinghai Province are opening, too.

In late February, the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Organization published a letter to all employees in the film industry, offering some advice on work resumption at cinemas - a sign for many that cinemas would reopen soon.

However, most cinemas across the country, especially those in the first-tier cities, are still reluctant to restart. 

Xue Ting, an employee of Emperor Motion Pictures based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the company hasn't received any notice to reopen cinemas since the capital city has many imported COVID-19 infected cases in recent days.

The industry was hit hard by the outbreak. According to an industry report, Chinese cinemas lost 11.5 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in box office revenue in January and February.

"Although a recovery is under way as the virus abates, a shortage of film supply and rising imported cases will keep people away from busy places like cinemas," Wang Dong, a Beijing-based independent industry analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Wang forecast a rebound would come around June, but the full-year revenue might fall 50 percent year-on-year. Last year, the national box office was 64.266 billion yuan, up 5.4 percent compared with the previous year.

Also, industry analysts cautioned there might be a lack of Hollywood movies in the market, as the film industry in the US is also under the shadow of the pandemic. Major releases have been delayed and movie theaters are closed in an effort to curb the virus.

The pandemic is likely to cut US box office revenue more than 12 percent from 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times, which cited an analyst from Wedbush Securities.

"As the situation abates in China while worsening in the US, some films that don't get released in the US might turn to China for their debuts," a US-based industry insider told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Analysts estimate the virus has already cost the global box office as much as $5 billion, mainly due to closures in China, which is the world's second-biggest film market just behind the US, and losses will worsen as the disease spreads.