Box office presales rekindle hope for virus-hit industry as cinemas reopen
Box office presales rekindle hope for virus-hit industry
Published: Jul 19, 2020 03:51 PM

File photo: VCG

As moviegoers in China await the much-anticipated reopening of cinemas on Monday, authorities and industry are taking cautious measures to maintain the progress in coronavirus battle. 

A nearly 500,000 yuan ($71,508) box office presales for the day may not work as a life-saving straw, but would rekindle the hopes of the virus-hit industry amid economic recovery across the country. 

According to Maoyan which provides real-time box office information, presales for cinemas across the Chinese mainland have exceeded 496,000 as of 6:30 pm and rising rapidly, the Global Times learned. 

A cinema called Changsha Mango International movie theater in Central China's Hunan Province saw 20,000 yuan in box office presales on Sunday, with 830 viewers having booked their tickets, according to the app. 

Top 10 cinemas with the largest presale bookings were mainly located in southern China, such as Hangzhou, Shanghai, Changsha and Nanjing, according to the app.

The China Film Administration announced on July 16 that cinemas in low-risk areas will be allowed to reopen on Monday, while those in high-risk areas will remain closed. 

To ensure the safety of moviegoers, cinemas that reopen must strictly implement epidemic-related safety measures such as the wearing of face masks, limiting seating capacity for each showing (no more than 30 percent), reducing the number of films to half that of the pre-epidemic period, and banning all food and beverage in theaters, according to the announcement.

Beijing authorities also said it would reopen cinemas with a limited number of viewers step by step, after the capital lowered the emergency response of COVID-19 from level Ⅱ to level Ⅲ starting on Monday, thanks to the fast and effective containment of the virus. 

The movie industry and patrons were delighted. 

At 5:40 pm on Friday, a cinema in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province sold the first movie ticket after the COVID-19 outbreak, and all of the 165 tickets in the cinema were sold out the same day.

"It's a good start to reopen cinemas, which means our daily life is recovering," a Sina Weibo user said online. 

The resumption of cinemas may not work as a life-saving straw financially to cinema owners, but would rekindle the hopes of people working in the industry. 

"We were happy to hear the news, but at the same time hurry-scurry to get ready for the reopening," a staff surnamed Li at Nanjing Dahua Qinhuai movie theater told the Global Times on Sunday, adding all of the employees are back at work. 

A qualified digital health code and body temperature test are required to enter the theater. In addition, staff will examine the viewers' booking information in advance, Li said, adding the cinema has already locked some seats to ensure social distancing between viewers. "Staff will randomly check to see is anyone violates the rule," she added. "Though we may not profit after reopening for the moment, we must enliven the market as it slept too long."

Zhou Xingqi, who runs a cinema in Lanzhou, Northwest China's Gansu Province, said his staff are disinfecting every corner of the cinema in order to prepare for viewers, according to a video posted on Sina Weibo.

"We used to have 21 employees before the coronavirus outbreak, and 12 left. Our cinema lost nearly 2 million yuan," Zhou said on the 177th day after his cinema was closed. 

The biggest difficulty would be the lack of blockbusters, as most of domestic and foreign producers have suspended production, Yun Feiyang, a Chinese movie critic with more than 1.51 million followers on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, told the Global Times. 

"The US has not even contained the virus. How would its large studios produce films?" he said, predicting China's box office may hit a peak during the National Day holiday in October instead of the summer vacation. 

"It is estimated that the box office will be, at most, 20 billion yuan ($2.86 billion) this year. Although cinemas will reopen, the uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak will frighten potential patrons," a manager of a film-making and distribution company who preferred to be anonymous told the Global Times.

In the first half of the year, China's box office stood at 2.242 billion yuan, down 93 percent from 2019. National box office receipts reached 64.147 billion yuan in 2019, according to industry data.

"With more than 200 films to be released, the film industry has at least 15 billion yuan in receivables and needs 45 billion yuan at the box office to break even with distribution companies," the manager said.