Due to the outbreak of COVID19, cinemas in China have been closed for more than 50 days since late January. Various surveys show that over 50% of the audience will visit a cinema when they reopen.

As reported by Variety, the first batch of cinemas reopened in the country include Zhongying Golden Palm Cinema in Urumqi, Xinjiang province.  However, because many new titles have yet announced their release dates after being pulled out (both local and foreign), this cinema struggled to programme films and had to rely on several older titles.

Most cinemas in the country are all prepared to reopen, provinces like Sichuan and Guangdong have also issued a warrant for the leisure industry to get back to businesses. The immediate problem lies in the lack of films to show. Among the seven major Chinese New Year blockbusters that were pulled out from its release, one of them was already online for streaming (LOST IN RUSSIA). This has caused a lot of debates and anger among exhibitors. None of the remaining domestic films have announced a rerelease date, neither foreign titles such as JOJO RABIT, LITTLE WOMAN and 1917 which were scheduled to release in February. If cinemas are now to reopen soon, distribution is the main issue which needs to be resolved, in particular while China does not fully enjoy a free market when it comes to film distribution, yet.

According to Maoyan Research Institute’s recent survey (part 1), over 50% of the audience are willing to visit a cinema when they reopen and their enthusiasm continues to increase, as current situation improves day by day in the country.

The research also reveals that during the quarantine period, although all cinemas are closed, watching film is still a main choice for entertainment. 81% of the audience watch films via streaming platforms such as iQiyi and Youku. The average film consumption is around one film every four days. Main genres that people prefer are comedy, sci-fi, drama and action. About 30% of the audience surveyed express that they desperately want to go to a cinema when they reopen.

Another survey conducted by WeChat account “Yiqipaidianying” further investigated questions around ticket price. 35.89% of the sample audience express that they cannot accept a price increase, while 35.34% of them can accept an increase between 5%-10%. Furthermore, 23.84% of the surveyed audience think that cinemas should reduce ticket price in order to attract customers. This finding shows that audiences are relatively sensitive to cinema ticket price. While national and regional governments in China have allocated  funds to support the exhibition sector, subsidies toward ticket is perhaps one effective solution. In a practical sense, maybe cinemas should be able to claim for 20-30% subsidies for each ticket that they sell, so that they can afford to reduce the price. This strategy can be implemented by cinema operators in collaboration with ticketing platforms such as Tao Piaopiao and Maoyan.

Shanghai based Elemeet (an on-demand cinema platform) also conducted a survey. 53% of the audience say that they will pay to go to the cinema when they reopen, 24% of them say no and 21% unsure. 21% of the audience think cinemas will reopen in early April. 45% of the audience are confident going to the cinema after a week of its reopen. 31% of them look forward to domestic blockbusters from the Chinese New Year window and 26% of them are interested in Oscars titles such as 1917.

In my prediction, cinemas in China will gradually reopen from this week onwards. We will be looking at the period between mid-April and mid-May for all sites fully returning to operations. However, as pointed out before, distribution is still an urgent and difficult issue to be resolved. Another commentary will address this with more details, in due course.

See another coverage by Variety on the same topic.

We can all go through this together.