China’s entertainment industry cautiously optimistic
Published: Jul 23, 2020 11:46 PM

Photo: Li Hao/GT

Industry insiders expressed their cautious optimism and relief as Beijing, the cultural center of the world’s second-largest economy, eased restrictions on its cultural and entertainment services industry amid progress in containing the COVID-19 epidemic.

However, two insiders said their companies will be in dangerous waters during the economic reopening, wondering whether consumers will have the mood and purse for what used to be everyday entertainment.

Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism announced on Tuesday the orderly reopening of theatres, karaoke bars and internet cafes and the first batch of cinemas in the capital is set to reopen on Friday.

However, a telephone survey by the Global Times seemed to suggest that all of the four karaoke bars in Beijing's Central Business District remained out of service as of press time on Thursday. Phone calls to another five karaoke bars in the capital's swanky Sanlitun Area went answered.

“Beijing is the cultural heart of China, and the city's reopening of its cultural and entertainment services such as karaoke bars is like an adrenalin shot in the arm for the whole industry nationwide, which entered the reopening phase earlier than Beijing,” a deputy general manager at a karaoke chain in the city, who only gave her surname as Yang, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

“But the virus-induced shutdown has simply been too long. And you can’t really expect this industry to suddenly jump back to its previous vigor,” Yang said. “It will be a slow and gradual process in which you see companies limping toward a gradual reopening of their shops and sometime later toward recovery.”

“What’s positive is that now the government has given the green light, and our company is proceeding with the documentation and other work toward reopening. We are getting the ball rolling,” said Yang, who described the “unimaginable” pressure of having a karaoke business with no income and only expenses for six months. 

In the cinema industry, where the nationwide box office surpassed 1 million yuan ($142,876) on the first day of reopening on Monday after being closed for more than 170 days, there is similar cautious optimism.

Tammy, a manager at a movie distribution firm, said that although more cinemas will open this week than karaoke bars, many are still in the process of getting all the required approval from the authorities.

“The second half of this year will be really hard. Beside the pandemic, the China-US, China-India tensions will also weigh on the introduction of Hollywood and Bollywood films,” Tammy said. 

“Luckily, we have nailed down several US films and it’s like we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said the manager, whose company managed to stay afloat in a COVID-19 storm that reportedly wiped out over 6,000 firms.

However, both Yang and Tammy said the second half of the year will still be closely examined and their companies will proceed with caution, not over-optimism.

“I assure you from the pattern we observed in other cities in China, there will be a spending binge as people have been locked out of the karaoke bars for so long. But I don’t know how long the spending for such needs could last,” Yang said.

Due to the pandemic, many Chinese people are facing reduced income and some have lost their jobs.

“What we are particularly concerned about is whether the consumers still have both the confidence and the ability to take part in what used to be everyday entertainment,” said Yang. 

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Beijing municipal government has been rolling out supportive measures to help companies and industries hit by the epidemic, and on Wednesday the government said it would specially focus on supportive measures for industries such as catering and accommodation, culture and entertainment, according to the Beijing Daily newspaper.

Many of the movies on show from Friday are actually older movies returning to screens, with distributors withholding their new films while gauging the strength of the recovery. 

Economic reasons also prevented some cinemas from opening, given the increased cost of epidemic control and prevention measures, the ban on selling lucrative snacks, and the 30 percent cap on maximum attendance.

“We are still assessing the stability of the epidemic situation in Beijing and the eagerness of moviegoers,” Tammy said.

According to a report by Caijing in April, China's box office revenue could slump to a mere 20-30 billion yuan from a projected 68 billion yuan before the virus emerged.

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