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China Cinema Ticket Sales Drop 15% in July

Ticket sales for China’s cinemas suffered a 15% drop in July according to data from local box office tracker Ent Group. That follows two months that were also down.

Ent Group also said that average ticket prices reached their lowest point for five years.

Several factors appear to be simultaneously weighing on the box office, though some of them can actually be interpreted as signs of greater health – or at least greater transparency.

Among these mixed signals are a sharp reduction in the subsidies offered by online ticketing firms. Their fierce competition had become too costly and was sharply reined back in the second quarter of the year.

Another factor is greater regulatory vigilance and crackdowns on manipulative marketing practices by producers and distributors. Companies have regularly bought up tickets to their own movies in attempts to create the illusion of success, and in turn to drive up ancillary rights. That almost certainly inflated last year’s headline grabbing 49% increase in box office revenues.

“Of last year’s RMB44 billion reported box office, about RMB3 billion to RMB5 billion came from such allowances,” the government mouthpiece, The People’s Daily reported recently.

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Still other factors may also be at play. These include China’s slowing economy, and a relatively poor crop of films through Spring and the early part of summer. ‘

After a stellar first quarter and Chinese New year period, Chinese audiences have been less tempted to turn out in droves for either local or Hollywood titles. To date only six Hollywood studio movies have exceeded the $100 million mark in the Middle Kingdom.)

That weakness prompted China’s movie regulators to soften the annual moratorium on releasing Hollywood films in the high summer period, though it is not clear that the diluted ‘blackout period’ has changed much. Chinese-language films have headed the China box office for the past five weeks.

Of the four latest chart toppers, however, only “Cold War 2,” a Hong Kong-made action sequel, and last weekend’s opener “Time Raiders” can be said to have lived up to expectations. “Time Raiders” opened with a cracking $70 million that included $5 million of previews.

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