China is slowly regaining its footing with businesses reopening after two months of closures. Around 500 cinemas, which constitutes about 5% of the nation’s cineplexes, opened their doors to the public last weekend with the hopes of recouping a light profit by playing some of China’s top hits. Last weekend, China Film Corp issued a statement regarding a public service model that was employed so that cinemas could earn all of the profits, with the rights holders essentially forgoing their share. Unfortunately, this has not gotten the expected results as seats have been left out to the cold.
According to a report by Variety, these theatres averaged poorly, with numbers of less than one person per screening. The cumulative total of the cineplexes that opened was only $10,000 (USD) which is not the typical earnings of a cinema in the region. The Xinjiang Golden Palm Cinema was the first cineplex to set the reels running again, but business has been discouraging. The theatre has been averaging less than a hundred patrons per day, thus causing them to work half-days.
Industry analyst Shi Yongdong told the China Securities Daily:
“Looking at things now, all the box office from Q1 was basically lost, and cinemas will certainly not be busy in April. Even if there’s a sudden revival of consumption, box office losses this year may exceed $2.1 billion [USD], so the annual box office performance this year doesn’t look good.”
The public has been disapproving so far of the decisions to entice people back to theatres with some online comments mocking the move.
“There are still people who want to go to the movies??”, chided one individual. “If a single superspreader goes to the cinema, then spending two months at home and [wearing] all those masks was all for nothing.”
To be fair, the country is still recovering and rightfully should take its time to do so. People tend to be wary in this sort of situation and an activity that would require patrons to sit in a room with a crowd might be frowned upon. As such, it is good that people are taking cautionary measures to make sure that an outbreak does not happen again which would cripple the day-to-day lifestyles of society.
However, for the entertainment industry, it is a worrying circumstance. With no revenue, the losses will keep stacking up, and will continue to do so until the time comes when people regain their trust in public spaces. Films such as Jackie Chan’s Vanguard and the animated sequel to Ne Zha, Legend of Deification, which were meant to headline the Lunar New Year, have been sidestepping any talks of a release date due to the lack of people in seats. This might also apply to films outside China, as there are quite a number of features that have been delayed indefinitely such as Mulan, Black Widow, and Scoob!. Studios would have to look at how the rest of the world responds to theatres reopening once the COVID-19 situation dips before reassigning new slates for such flicks.
So, for now, their best bet still rests on streaming services and digital releases. But with everything else on a halt, there’s going to be some serious repercussions in terms of releases for the year 2020.