Chinese film distributors inflated ticket sales, say officials

Government officials alleges that all top-grossers fabricated box-office collections to create hype

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 10:27pm

Film distributors on the Chinese mainland inflated ticket sales of blockbusters to create an artificial hype about collections, a government official said.

“Distributors of all the top-grossers showing at Chinese cinemas have fabricated their box office receipts, almost without exception,” Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday quoting Li Dong, deputy director of the National Film Development Funds Management Committee.

Li’s remarks came close on the heels of reports that veteran Chinese film director Feng Xiaogang’s social satire I Am Not Madame Bovary, which ridicules Chinese bureaucracy, had topped the country’s box office since its release on November 18.

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The film starring China’s best-paid actress Fan Bingbing on Sunday helped Feng snatch the best director award at the 2016 Golden Horse Awards, considered the equivalent of the Oscars for Mandarin-language cinema.

Eleven days after hitting the screens, I Am Not Madame Bovary netted 336.3 million yuan (HK$377.5 million) in movie ticket sales on the mainland, according to data from industry researcher Entgroup.

After being ranked in the top position for nearly a week, it has slipped to the third position and was surpassed by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Disney animation film Moana over the weekend.

This is the second time since March that Beijing has accused film distributors of manipulating box office collections by buying bulk tickets for “ghost screenings.” Earlier this year, regulators suspended the license of a distributor of Ip Man 3, a Kung fu sequel starring Mike Tyson, for box office fraud.

“A popular way to fabricate movie ticket sales is to ‘purchase’ them from the theatres,”the Xinhua article quoted researcher Li Hanwen with China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television as saying.

Liu said some distributors would reach an agreement with cinema operators by having sold-out screenings starting after midnight when the theatres are closed, while others would simply buy tickets themselves to boost sales figures.

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“Cinemas would try to create a buzz around a film by manipulating its box office for the first few days of screenings,”he added.

Monster Hunt, a home-grown fantasy hit that became the country’s second top-grossing film of all time was singled out by Xinhua as a blockbuster plagued in the box office scandal. Monster Hunt’s Hong Kong-based distributor Edko last year confessed to having given out more than 40 million free tickets for obligatory “public welfare screenings.”

Industry regulators may clamp down on box office manipulation with more stringent steps, said Jiang Tao, director of the film development funds management committee, told Xinhua.

Feng’s black comedy was already in the news for stirring up a war of words between two of China’s largest studios Huayi Brothers and Wanda Cinemas. Feng had in his microblogs publicly accused Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin of shutting out his film from Wanda theatres.