Theatrical box office in China edged ahead by 1% in the first two months of the year to $1.57 billion (RMB10.9 billion). After a dramatic slowdown in the second half of 2016, the figures will come as a relief to many in the Chinese industry if they prove to be a floor.
But distorting the comparison is a new methodology. Since Jan. 1, gross figures include the booking fees charged by online ticketing agencies. Subtract those fees and the first two months show a 4% decline at RMB10.3 billion.
Grosses (including booking fees) were down 13% in February at $873 million (RMB6.03 billion) compared with February last year, according to data from Ent Group. They followed a blockbuster January in which takings were up 27% year-on-year. But with the important Chinese New Year holidays this year in different months from 2016, a meaningful comparison only arises by taking the two months together.
On that basis, the data appear to show a degree of stability. Chinese New Year was a strong period for cinema, but this year Valentine’s Day was weaker than last year.
Another sign of stability emerged from average ticket prices, which had recently been on a downward spiral. Although two months do not make a trend, in both January and February the mean nationwide price was $5.21 (RMB36) per admission, higher than the first two months of 2016, and higher also than December last year.
On a per-screen basis, the figures are still cause for concern. In 2016, Chinese operators opened nearly 10,000 new screens, to increase the national circuit by just under a third.