China’s holiday box office plunges movie theaters, raises movie ticket prices

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Moviegoers line up in front of promotional posters for Chinese New Year films in Shanghai on February 1, 2022.

Cost photo | Edition of the future | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese consumer spending on movies plunged during the Lunar New Year holiday last week as cinemas hiked prices to record highs.

The seven-day holiday that ended on Sunday is typically the biggest week of the year for new movie releases in China, the world’s biggest box office. Eight Chinese films debuted this year.

However, the total holiday box office of 6.04 billion yuan ($951.1 million) marked a 23% drop from 7.84 billion yuan for the same period in 2021, according to the site. Maoyan online ticket office.

Tickets were on average 8% more expensive this year compared to last year, the data showed. The average one-day ticket price during the holiday hit 56 yuan ($8.80), the highest since 2017.

“A lot of consumers complained [it was] unaffordable for the whole family to see [a] film,” said Gao Huan, Beijing-based general manager of consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal. “Cinephiles, especially those less willing to pay, have actually decided to stay home instead of going to movie theater.”

Covid-related travel restrictions and neighborhood lockdowns have weighed on Chinese consumer spending over the past two years.

Overall tourism consumption during the holidays was 3.9 percent lower than in 2021, at 289.12 billion yuan, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. That’s well below pre-pandemic levels and around 56.3% of tourism consumption in 2019, the data shows.

Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, pointed out that the holiday box office drop this year was high in 2021, when the Lunar New Year coincided with Valentine’s Day.

Covid-related restrictions and generally weak consumer demand have made it even more difficult to keep ticket sales so high, he said in a note. “Anecdotal evidence shows that cinemas may have intentionally raised ticket prices in anticipation of much lower sales than last year, to compensate for the expected loss of profit.”

Along with a global rise in inflation, prices of consumer goods in China rose slightly. But a roughly 1% year-on-year increase in consumer prices last year is far less than the 8% rise in movie ticket prices.

This year’s Lunar New Year box office of around 6 billion yuan was slightly higher than the 5.9 billion yuan recorded for 2019, the data showed. Cinemas were essentially closed over the holidays in 2020, with seven films having their release delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Films made in China dominate

Two years into the pandemic, Chinese movie theaters have faced intermittent lockdowns, as well as changes in movie availability.

Chinese-made films have increased their share of the local market, thanks to government policies that restrict the distribution of foreign-made films while supporting local titles. The gap has widened during the pandemic, with the share of films made overseas falling to around 16% since 2020, from well over a third in previous years, according to official Chinese data.

The growing share of locally produced content could negatively impact China’s box office as a whole, Gao said. “Movie theaters are under much greater pressure to break even,” she said, noting that this means they have to look for other revenue streams or raise ticket prices.

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The top-grossing movie of the holiday last week was the new “Watergate Bridge,” a sequel to last year’s hit movie about Chinese soldiers fighting American troops during the Korean War.

Also new was a Chinese comedy titled “Too Cool to Kill,” which ranked second in box office gross, according to data from Maoyan.

Foreign films that hit Chinese theaters last year included ‘Fast and Furious 9’ – which ranked fifth domestically at the box office – as well as ‘Dune’ and the James Bond film ‘No Time’. to Die”. But no Marvel superhero movie has come to China since 2019.

The China Film Administration announced in November its goal for domestic films to account for at least 55 percent of the annual local box office and for around 50 Chinese-made films to gross at least 100 million yuan a year.

—CNBC Sarah Whiteten contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “F9” and owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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