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KEY STAT | Cinemas in China slowly reopen, but customers are staying at home

Last Sunday, on average, theaters in China had less than one person for each screened movie.

After more than a month business suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cinemas across China have been slowly reopening since the third week of March, only to find that, moviegoing is still being shunned by most Chinese to avoid cramming themselves into small public places.

On March 22, 529 cinemas, or 4.8% out of China’s over 12,000 cinemas, opened for business. However, there were only 1,326 moviegoers for an aggregate of 1,389 screenings, meaning that, on average, there was only one spectator for each screening, according to Alibaba’s data service provider Dengta, citied by local financial media Securities Daily.

A total of 3,810 customers visited offline cinemas in the past week, which generated a total box office of RMB 118,200 (USD 16,704), while the average weekly visitors in 2019 was 33 million, for total revenues of RMB 1.2 billion (USD 170 million).

The shutdown during what usually is the most lucrative period in the year for the Chinese cinema industry, has placed theaters among the worst-hit businesses amid the 2020’s coronavirus public health crisis.

In the past five years, January and February alone accounted for more than 20% of the whole year’s box office, as data research blog DT Caijing pointed out.

Except for the health crisis, another reason that has lead to a poor number of customers in the cinemas may be found in their offer: there’re no new releases. Amid the more-than-50-day shutdown, new movies either postponed their premier schedule or turned to various online video platforms to reach a major audience, KrASIA reported, leaving cinemas with no choice but to screen outdated movies.

While theater chains are dealing with huge losses, online video streaming platforms have received millions of new users in the January-March period. Platforms like Tencent Video, iQiyi, and Youku released 415 new movies and shows this year, 22% more than in the same period of 2019, said research firm Yien in its latest report.

To help theaters overcome the difficulties, movie distribution companies and producers agreed to screen five popular movies from previous years with a share ratio of 0:100%, meaning the total box office would all go to the theaters.

To also alleviate the pain, Alibaba started to help 20 cinemas to sell their unsold popcorns, snacks, and beverages through its food delivery platform Ele.me since the end of February, KrASIA reported.