More than 5,000 Chinese film and TV companies have cancelled or revoked their business registrations so far this year, nearly twice the tally for the entirety of 2019, a state-run media outlet said Wednesday. That is a signal of the devastating impact of the coronavirus outbreak on China’s film industry.
Shut since January with high expenses and no revenue streams, cinemas have been the sector hardest hit. They have now starting to lay off staff in droves, with CGV recently laying off as much as 30% of its workforce, according to the financial magazine Economic Weekly.
China’s Economic Daily, a paper backed by the country’s top administrative body, the State Council, said that 5,328 film and TV companies have disbanded so far in 2020, 1.78 times the number which did so in all of last year. Furthermore, there were less than 8,000 registrations of new movie theater industry-related companies in the first two months of the year, down 25% from the same period in 2019.
“China’s national box office is nearly zero, a large number of film crews have suspended their work, and a large number of in-progress projects have had to delay their pre- and post-production,” it explained.
The solution in the near-term will be to move towards digital, it advised. “To deal with the current risks in the film and TV industry, it is necessary to… attempt to establish online virtual experiences to continuously improve online participation and satisfaction,” it said. “In the future, there’s no doubt that the film and TV industry will need to accelerate its pace of digitization and shifting online… in a way that encompasses all organizations and individuals within the industry and reshapes the industry’s production methods, organizational structures and values.”
A top comment on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote in response to the news: “The big stars upstream won’t be affected, those mid-stream [in production] will see some ups and downs, but [cinemas] downstream will face hardships and privations…unemployment this year will surge, in all areas.”
At a press conference Wednesday, the State Council once again reiterated its stance — formally expressed in an official announcement last week — that “entertainment and leisure venues such as cinemas or game halls should remain closed for the time being.”
A cinema investor told the Economic Weekly that “the cash flow of some larger cinema chains can sustain them for five months, but the time when we can re-open is far in the indefinite future, so we have to lay off staff and cut costs.”
A number of cinema employees said that while major theater chains like Hengdian and Dadi were able to give most employees their salaries for January, many have only been paying about 70% of the local minimum wage since.
In the past few days, ads promoting the rental of empty theater halls as a backdrop for wedding photos have been circulating on social media. “Shoot film-themed wedding photos — shoot whatever you want, however you want!” one trumpeted.
In one second-tier city, renting a theater for a shoot cost $14.2 (RMB100) an hour, or $85 (RMB600) for the whole day, a local media report said. It noted that though there had been no takers yet, the new business direction showed that theater managers “have no choice now but to fight for their own survival.”