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China Box Office Expands by $2 Billion to Hit $8.6 Billion in 2017

Imported and local titles shared the bounty as China’s box office grew by 14% in local currency terms in 2017. In U.S. dollars the gain was 30%, and shows China continuing as the main driver of global box office expansion.

Data published on New Year’s Day by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television showed gross box office in China expanding from RMB45.7 billion in 2016 to RMB55.9 billion in 2017. Using year-end exchange rates ($1 = RMB 6.94 on Jan. 1, 2017, and RMB6.50 on Jan. 1, 2018), China’s box office was $6.59 billion in 2016 and fully $2 billion higher in 2017 at $8.6 billion.

Complicating direct comparisons is the inclusion in the 2017 data of fees charged by online ticket sellers as part of the gross figure. Stripping these out reduces the like-for-like gain by about four or five percentage points.

Nonetheless, China gave the worldwide box office a big boost it would have otherwise lacked. U.S.-based data service ComScore said Sunday that global box office increased by $1.1 billion in 2017 to $$39.9 billion. Within that total, North American theatrical revenues dipped fractionally to $11.12 billion in 2017, and international grew by $1.4 billion to $28.8 billion. Without the Chinese contribution, both the international and the overall performances would have been negative.

Within China, local films ground out a win thanks to the stellar performance of films including “Wolf Warriors II,” which earned more than  $860 million. Market share for Chinese-language movies and Chinese co-productions was 53.8%, down from 58% in 2016 and 61% in 2015. Beginning this month, the Chinese government will offer financial incentives to theaters that increase the performance of local titles.

In cash terms, revenues for local films increased from RMB26.7 billion in 2016 to RMB30.1 billion in 2017. For international films the increase was higher, with revenues jumping from RMB19 billion to RMB25.8 billion. The strengthening of the Chinese currency against the dollar made those gains still more valuable to Hollywood.

Another indication of the performance of the Chinese theatrical market was the growth of ticket sales. These increased by 18% from 1.37 billion in 2016 to 1.62 billion in 2017. That means theatrical movie consumption in China – the world’s most populous nation – is now higher than one ticker per person per year, for the first time in the modern era.

The ticket data, however, also point to two other weaker trends: continuing ticket price deflation, as the average price is brought down by cinema-building in smaller, less wealthy towns and cities; and declining revenues per screen. The SAPPRFT data show that the number of screens in operation increased by 23% from 41,179 at the end of 2016 to 50,776 at the end of 2017.

The agency also reported that overseas box office of Chinese films and co-production increased by 11% to RMB4.25 billion ($653 million).

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