Caixin
May 01, 2020 08:06 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Months After Other Sectors Resumed Business, China’s Cinemas Lie Dormant

Movie theaters around China mostly sat empty throughout the coronavirus crisis.

So it’s little wonder the China Film Administration — which decides what films are released in China and when — estimated on Wednesday that the country’s box office will lose over 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) this year.

Cinemas have been among the businesses most stricken by Covid-19. But now, months after other sectors began resuming business and production as the country’s epidemic came under control, theaters remain dormant on concerns about cluster infections that may emerge from strangers sitting close together in a room for several hours.

On March 27, the China Film Administration, which also regulates the country’s film theaters, issued a notice saying they were to remain closed indefinitely, multiple industry sources previously told Caixin (link in Chinese).

The directive followed the gradual opening of hundreds of cinemas during March, when a public poll by online ticketing agent Maoyan found nearly 70% of respondents considered going to the cinema as their top choice for entertainment once the epidemic was over, and 30% said that they would visit one as soon as they could.

All theaters were closed during the key Lunar New Year holiday in January, the industry’s most lucrative stretch of the year. 

Film production, distribution and promotion have also ceased.

The closures have hit operators hard. On Wednesday, Wanda Film Holding Co. Ltd., which operates more than 600 cinemas around the country, reported a 250% plunge in profits and 70% year-on-year drop in revenue for the first quarter.

Wanda Film said it lost about 600 million yuan on revenue of more than 1.2 billion yuan, after reporting profits of more than 420 million yuan for the same period last year.

The company said about 88% fewer people walked into cinemas around China in the first quarter than for that period the previous year, and the country’s overall box office takings plunged 80% to 2.2 billion yuan.

All of Wanda Film’s theaters have been closed since January as it awaits news from the regulator, the Shanghai-listed company said. It’s looking to raise up to 4.35 billion yuan by issuing more shares in order to pay down debt and build new theaters.

A dozen local governments including in Beijing, Shanghai and provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu have come up with relief policies in hopes of lifting filmmakers’ burdens, by giving out special subsidies to cinemas, providing relief funds and loans with lower interest rates.

Qian Tong contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Isabelle Li (liyi@caixin.com) and editor Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)

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