Multiplex cinema

HONG KONG – Chinese cinema operators added an astonishing 5,077 new cinema screens last year, as they opened a massive 903 new complexes.

The numbers, from the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, mean that China now has 4,582 cinema complexes and 18,195 screens, increases of 25% and 39% respectively.

Ticket sales kept pace, showing a 32% increase from 462 million in 2012 to 612 million in 2013.

Previously released data about the box office showed grosses rising by 27% from RMB17 billion ($2.75 billion) to RMB21.8 billion ($3.37 billion). With ticket sales outstripping box office takings, that implies a reduction in the average price of movie tickets. That trend is most likely explained by the geographic diversification of theater chains into second and third tier cities, where pricing is less aggressive.

The data also shows that cinema visits per head of population are approximately 0.5 per person per year (given that China has a population of some 1.3 billion). That is low compared with China’s neighbors in Asia – South Koreans buy an average of 4 tickets each year – and with developed country markets.

The opportunity to increase Chinese cinema visits per head is widely expected to continue to fuel similar rates of cinema building for the next few years – despite currently poor levels of seat and theater occupancy. Industry analysts suggest that only when it has 35,000 to 40,000 screens (double the current figure) will China be adequately screened. The U.S. and Canada had a combined 42,000 at the end of 2012.

Wanda, the property to leisure combine that last year acquired AMC, is China’s biggest cinema chain on several counts. With 1,200 screens it topped the box office with a combined gross of RMB3.16 billion ($517 million) and ticket sales of 77 million.

The Dadi chain with 200 complexes, compared with Wanda’s 140, has the most locations. But with box office of RMB1.58 billion ($260 million) it had a lower average gross per complex and ranked fourth in income terms.

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