Hong Kong-listed China 3D Digital Entertainment's ambitions for the mainland market kicked off this year with the opening of its first cinema across the border, in the coastal city of Xiamen. "This business really has surprised me," said Chairman Stephen Shiu Jnr. "From the first month, the cinema's cash flow has already broke even." Gao Jun, formerly a deputy general manager of Beijing-based cinema management company New Film Association, said the rapid growth of box office receipts on the mainland made investing in cinemas a safe option. He said more than 10 new screens were being added on the mainland every day. "Cinemas have the flexibility of arranging bestseller movies to have the most screening sessions," he said. "It is a good cash business. Even if you are dissatisfied with the movie you watched, you can't claim your money back." However, mainland film critic Raymond Zhou said he believed the golden age of cinema investment on the mainland was over. "The best time was three to five years ago, when the market was just picking up," he said. "Now it has become quite crowded, especially in first-tier cities." While a torrent of capital had flooded into the cinema industry, the average income of individual cinema complexes has been falling. "Attendance is still increasing, but the addition of screens is increasing faster," Zhou said. Even so, he said, there was a lot of potential for growth on the mainland beyond major centres like Beijing or Shanghai. Zhou said investment was now mostly focused on second-, third-, or even fourth-tier cities. Gao said more than half of the 2,000-odd cities on the mainland still did not have a cinema. "Competition is intensifying but I believe there are attractive opportunities in these cities, because of the very low starting point," he said. In a report issued last month, PwC said it saw mainland box office receipts growing from US$3.13 billion last year to US$5.9 billion by 2018, an increase of 88 per cent. The report said the mainland had about 15,000 screens and 3,700 theatres as of the middle of last year, and the pace of construction was accelerating. "However, this is still a tiny amount for a country with a population of 1.3 billion," said report leader Jane Kong. "The scope for growth is massive." China 3D Digital plans to open more cinemas in the second half, with complexes in Chongqing and Guangzhou.