China’s Government May Step In To Control Theatrical Windows When Cinemas Re-Open

China movie theater
Andy Wong/AP

China’s government could take control of theatrical windowing when the country’s cinemas re-open, according to a briefing held today.

Wang Xiaohui, executive vice minister of the Central Propaganda Department and director of the National Film Administration, delivered a speech in which he stressed that the windows, which have been broken during the lockdown, must be restored.

“It is necessary to maintain the “window period” rules of cinema releases, adhere to the spirit of contract, and strengthen the sense of integrity,” said the minister in quotes reported by local source 1905 Movie Network on WeChat and translated by Deadline.

In today’s briefing, Wang Xiaohui also encouraged further financial support policies for movie theaters, and suggested a fund could be implemented to provide discounts to boost the purchase and distribution of movie tickets.

One of the most high-profile instances of window breaking in China came in the early days of the lockdown, when Huanxi Media Group moved to stream blockbuster pic Lost In Russia on online video platforms after striking a RMB 630m ($90.8m) deal with TikTok owner ByteDance.

There are no explicitly mandated windows in China such as there are in other territories. Instead, they are typically employed case-by-case depending on theatrical performance and existing VOD deals, but films typically wait 28 days after opening in cinemas before heading to home ent.

This is a hot button topic globally right now. Distributors have looked to alternative options in the wake of cinema closures, with some titles being held back for theatrical runs once the crisis eases, and others heading directly online. One significant example was Universal’s move to put Trolls World Tour directly on PVOD, which the studio’s chief Jeff Shell said yesterday had generated some $95M. Shell commented that he expected to release movies “on both formats [theatrical and PVOD]” going forward, which sparked an angry backlash from exhibs who felt like they were being abandoned in a time of extreme need. In response, the world’s largest exhibitor AMC, which is owned by China’s Wanda, said yesterday it won’t carry Universal movies going forward.

While the U.S. is making early steps in the re-opening process, China is a little further ahead. Deadline’s sources on the ground report that life is beginning to return to normal, with transport and restaurants open, albeit with restrictions in place.

The country’s capital Beijing took a step closer today with local officials announcing that they would lower the city’s emergency response level a notch starting April 30, after seeing no confirmed local or imported COVID-19 cases for 13 consecutive days. The highest level of emergency response had been in place since January 24. This could lead to the country’s cinemas gradually beginning to re-open, though they remain closed at present.

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