Chinese authorities will allow further leisure venues, including cinemas, to gradually re-open now that the coronavirus pandemic has largely been controlled in the country, the top administrative body said on Friday. This comes after movie theaters were shuttered nationwide in January, ultimately dealing a $2.5B+ loss to the box office in just the first quarter.
No timeframe was given for the re-opening. The State Council posted a statement to its official website saying that venues including cinemas will need to adhere to “strict prevention measures” including disinfection, enhanced ventilation, limiting visitor numbers and utilizing face masks. Movie tickets will also need to be pre-ordered, a practice the market is well accustomed to.
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The news was met with excitement on local social media, however some said they would wait to see how the sanitary measures are implemented as well as when there are fresh movies playing. Films expected to go first include older releases that were out before the closures, as well as studio library titles like the Harry Potter series and Avengers movies. Hollywood movies that were cleared pre-shutdown are also likely candidates as business ramps up. It is thought that big—ticket local films which were unable to be released for Lunar New Year in January will be held for the time being.
“Although a recovery is underway as the virus abates, a shortage of film supply and the ‘don’t sit next to each other’ policy will make it hard for the industry to rebound any time soon,” industry analyst Wang Dong told the Global Times.
Also per the Global Times, some exhibitors said Friday that they are waiting for formal notification and specific guidance from Chinese authorities before getting back to business.
China was expected to open cinemas at the end of March after two months of closures, with some 500 venues welcoming visitors back for one weekend (March 20-22), though very few admissions were recorded.
However, Deadline broke the news that China’s national film bureau had quickly stepped in to override directives from regional governments and order the closure once again of all cinemas. That came after a spike in imported COVID-19 cases. The numbers have since slowed and the virus is now said to be largely under control in the country.
It is expected that box office for the year will be down by about half compared to 2019. That would take it to a projected RMB 30B+ ($4.2B+).
Local companies have also been hit with major exhibitor Wanda forecasting a loss of $78M-$92M in the first quarter of 2020 versus a $60M profit for the same period in 2019.
The China Film Administration recently said special policies will be implemented to support cinemas includiing reduced rents and discounts on loans.
Other forms of leisure and entertainment venues, including restaurants, have been open in China for a number of weeks now, with limitations in place. Shanghai Disneyland will open its gates on Monday, with tickets selling out instantly on Friday.
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