Stalled growth in the Chinese box office is due to recover soon, experts asserted at a panel Thursday morning at the American Film Market.
“There’s tremendous opportunity to grow in China; the average is now one ticket per capita while it’s 3.8 in the U.S.,” said Luke Xiang, VP and head of international for Beijing Weying Technology, at the Marketing and Distributing in China event at the Fairmont Hotel.
Technology advances are making it simple for moviegoers to purchase tickets online, the executive added. Beijing Weying Technology is partly owned by Chinese tech giants Tencent and Dalian Wanda.
“We see more and more people using the Wechat wallet to buy tickets; you can do it in 10 seconds,” Xiang noted. “The China film industry is in a battle for young people’s time; we want to embrace that challenge.”
He added that the average age of Chinese moviegoers is now 24, down from 27 a few years ago.
Earlier this week, a top exec for the China trade association predicted that the slowing of audience growth means the handover of worldwide market supremacy to China from the U.S. will likely now occur in 2019 rather than 2017.
Yugang An of Beijing In-Entertainment said Thursday that the growth of the market for 55-inch TVs is a key factor in the moviegoing slowdown in China. And he pointed to the increased sophistication of moviegoers.
“Chinese audiences are starting to have the need for more emotional content,” Yugang said through a translator.
The ongoing Chinese growth is being fueled by gains in the 200 “third and fourth tier” cities that have more than 2 million residents, according to William Feng, VP of the nation’s Motion Picture Assn.
The nation will have 40,000 movie screens by the end of the year, up from 32,000 a year ago, Feng noted. Feng also said that says he’s encouraged by growth of DVD and Blu-ray in China — markets that were non-existent a decade ago — due to the government piracy crackdown.
The panelists agreed that family audiences are key to maintaining growth in China, where the $153 million gross of “Kung Fu Panda 3” topped U.S. gross by $10 million.
“We need to focus more on family movies; we do see a growing increase of demand for animated movies in China,” Xiang said.
Patrick Frater, Variety Asia editor, moderated Thursday’s session, which drew about 400 attendees.
Bruno Wu, founder, co-chairman, and CEO of Beijing-based Seven Stars Media Group, headlined at the Producing in China panel.
“Third and fourth tier cities make up the bulk of the growth of box office in China,” Wu said. “It’s the cheapest date. Movies are becoming affordable for Chinese youngsters…they go because of social media.”