China Economy

Jason Bourne film’s summer release fails to revive China’s box office

Cinema revenues still falling despite Matt Damon film and other Hollywood imports being shown during season normally reserved for domestic films

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 2:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 3:01pm

China’s worst box-office slump in at least five years deepened during the third quarter as a dearth of hit films kept filmgoers away from cinemas.

Third-quarter ticket revenues up to Thursday fell about 16 per cent from a year earlier, Chinese government data showed.

This decline is the second straight quarterly drop.

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The shortage of successful films has prompted some analysts to push back projections that China would overtake the US as the world’s biggest film market. 

The slump in ticket sales contrasts with an almost 50 per cent jump in 2015.

That surge had Hollywood filmmakers targeting Chinese audiences and helped billionaire Wang Jianlin expand Dalian Wanda Group’s entertainment empire.

“The market is maturing, with Chinese consumers now becoming more discerning in their movie choices since the novelty of the new cinema environment [is[ finally wearing off to some extent,” said David Hancock, an analyst at IHS Markit.

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Hancock estimates China will overtake the US film market in 2018, after previously predicting it would do so in 2017.

The number of filmgoers buying tickets has fallen about 12 per cent so far this quarter, heading for the first decline since at least 2011, figures from the government’s China Movie Data Information Network showed.

Films such as Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and the animation Ice Age: Collision Course – shown this year in a summer season normally reserved for locally made movies only – failed to draw enough fans to offset an overall drop in sales.

Wang’s Legendary Entertainment is betting on another Damon film, The Great Wall, due out in December in China, co-starring Jing Tian and Pedro Pascal, to attract filmgoers.

The adventure film Time Raiders was the only title drawing at least 1 billion yuan (HK$1.16 billion) sales in the third quarter, compared with three reaching that milestone a year earlier, including Shrek-animator Raman Hui’s Monster Hunt, which racked up 2.4 billion yuan, China’s biggest-selling film ever after this year’s The Mermaid.

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Box-office sales have also been hurt this year after a fall in discounts offered by mobile ticketing apps backed by e-commerce and internet companies, including Alibaba Group – which owns the South China Morning Post – and Baidu.

Subsidies were estimated to have contributed as much as 10 per cent of the total box office last year, and have fallen by 70 per cent this year, according to Richard Huang, an analyst at Nomura Holdings.

“The effect of reduced subsidies is bigger than expected,” Huang said.

The mobile apps themselves have not disclosed how much they spent on discounting.

“Other than The Great Wall, few other films slated for this year would be likely to impress,“ said Jane Li, head of research at Beijing iMiner Data Technology, an information and consulting company that covers the entertainment industry.

Total China box office sales this year would “at best“ match last year’s US$44 billion, she said.

Nomura’s Huang forecasts an 8 per cent box-office growth this year, rising to 25 per cent in 2017 and 2018 as film franchises such as Transformers entice film audiences.