Aug 15, 2016

    Chinese cinema halls emptier as more watch films online


    CHINA'S cinemas are showing signs of weakness, as ticket sales dropped 10 per cent in the second quarter of the year versus 2015.

    It is the first dip in around five years and a far cry from the stellar growth at the start of the year. July sales slumped further, data from box office tracker EntGroup showed.

    The stalling sales may be a concern for Hollywood producers wooing China and for Beijing as it struggles to stoke domestic demand.

    "Cinema tickets are expensive and now there are lots more places to find movies, so everyone is choosing to stay at home and watch films online," said Zhang Fuling, 25, a service worker at a state-owned firm in Shanghai.

    Visits to cinemas fell 15 per cent in July, after growing more than 50 per cent last year and at the start of 2016.

    Average ticket prices have dropped to the lowest level in more than five years.

    Some analysts point to a recent crackdown on producers subsidising or buying unsold tickets to inflate box office sales, though similar campaigns failed to dent growth in 2014 or 2015.

    Even as the country faced its slowest growth in a quarter of a century, cinema ticket sales shot up at the start of the year, with record numbers flocking to see movies like quirky romantic comedy The Mermaid.

    However, industry insiders said some of that growth was artificial, driven by cut-price deals and producers buying or subsidising tickets.

    "Local film investors had been buying up lots of tickets for their own films, stoking a film market bubble," said Song Yuxing, an academic and independent film-maker.

    Still, the Chinese box office has raked in US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) so far this year and should challenge the United States market for the crown of the world's biggest.

    The dip could also be short-lived, with some saying there had simply been a lack of recent blockbuster hits.

    "A lot of domestic films lately haven't really gone down well and lots of viewers feel there isn't much worth watching,"said Wang Xin, a box office worker at the Stellar International Cineplex in Shanghai.

    She added many people were also bringing ticket coupons to get discounts.

    "The trouble is, if there aren't any good films on offer, then getting a discount doesn't really make a difference."