China to reopen theaters with preorders, limited number of visitors
Published: May 08, 2020 11:12 PM

Photo: Xinhua

The Chinese film industry, which has taken a big hit from the COVID-19 pandemic during the past four months, began to return to normal as the country on Friday announced a reopening of theaters in an orderly manner.

Entertainment venues such as cinemas will be opened and audience members will need to preorder tickets and the number of visitors will be limited, said the State Council, China's cabinet.

According to an online poll conducted by domestic news site's movie channel, more than 2,700 netizens voted for "cannot wait to go to the cinema" as of press time, and around 2,200 netizens said they will go if there are good movies on.

"I can finally go to the cinema! So excited!" said a user on China's twitter-like social media platform Sina Weibo. 

More than 1,200 people said they would wait and see, depending on what kinds of virus prevention and control measures cinemas take. A total of 1,300 netizens chose the option of "will not go to the cinema even after the long-awaited reopening."

Some showed a cautious attitude toward the reopening, saying that indoor places are still hazardous. "Although a recovery is underway as the virus abates, a shortage of film supply and the 'don't sit next to each other' policy will make it hard for the industry to rebound any time soon," Wang Dong, a Beijing-based independent industry analyst, told the Global Times.

Some managers of movie theater chains said Friday that they are waiting for formal notification and specific guidance from Chinese authorities, and it still may take some time for cinemas to design opening standards based on local rules, The Beijing News said

"It's uplifting news, as China has effectively controlled the disease and the reopening of entertainment venues is also a vote of confidence that social and economic activities are getting back on track," a Shenzhen-based analyst named Wu Hao told the Global Times on Friday.

But it will still take more time for the domestic film industry to recover to its previous level and box office performance in the second half of the year is vital, Wu said, forecasting that Chinese audiences may have a chance to watch newly released films as early as in June. 

Chinese theaters halted operations and the domestic film industry was suspended when the virus outbreak started in January. 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.

China's box office is forecast to see a loss of more than 30 billion yuan in 2020, the China Film Administration (CFA) said on April 29.

Industry companies are also struggling to survive. A total of 18 out of 24 listed movie companies in the Chinese market posted a loss in the first quarter this year.

Wanda Cinemas, one of the major film distributors in China, reported a loss of 600 million yuan in the first three months, compared with gains of 4.26 million yuan in the same period last year.

The revenue of Huayi Brothers Media Group stood at 229 million yuan in the first quarter, down 61.38 percent year-on-year.

Wang forecast full-year revenue for the industry might fall 50 percent year-on-year. Last year, the national box office was 64.266 billion yuan, up 5.4 percent from the previous year.

The CFA said special policies will be provided for supporting domestic cinemas such as cutting rent fees and offering loan discounts.