Coronavirus: Thousands of movie theatres in China could shut permanently

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Coronavirus: Thousands of movie theatres in China could shut permanently

China has the largest number of movie screens in the world but all have been shut since January 23, the day the central Chinese city of Wuhan was locked down to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Thousands of film theatres in China could never open again under the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, a new survey by film industry insiders has revealed, adding that lay-offs in the industry have also started.

China has the largest number of movie screens in the world but all have been shut since January 23, the day the central Chinese city of Wuhan was locked down to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In 2019, China added 9708 new screens to take the total number of screens to 69787; in 2019, China also had the second-largest box office in the world after the US.

The outbreak impact has already wiped out more than 30 billion yuan ($4.24 billion) from the 2020 box office, a government official said in April.

Now, the survey, jointly done by the China Film Association (CFA), the China Film Distribution and Screening Association and leading cinema chains including Wanda, reveals a picture that’s not optimistic.

“Under the continuous influence of the epidemic, more than 40% of the theatres may face survival difficulties,” the report said after conducting a survey of 187 theatres at the end of April.

If the findings of the survey are extrapolated to the Chinese theatre and box office that would mean thousands of screens shut for ever and the loss of a large number of jobs.

The Chinese government had said earlier that cinemas in regions with low coronavirus risks can reopen with reduced capacity and daily disinfecting measures but those measures are yet to be implemented.

Some theatres, according to a Reuters report, were briefly allowed to reopen after the number of new cases sharply dropped in China. However, they were later shut again amid worries that early relaxation of lockdowns could spark another wave of infections.

The long closure is impacting the livelihood of a large number of people involved in the long and complex chain of film making, distribution and screening.

“The survey shows that at the end of March, 20% of the theaters had laid off staff. Most of these layoff theaters are small and medium-sized cinemas with less than 1,000 seats,” it said.

“As many as 42% of theaters believe that they are at risk of ‘closing the door’; only 10% of theaters are likely to change hands and continue to operate,” the survey said.

Will there be a boom after the outbreak is declared over? From the findings of the survey, the outlook isn’t optimistic.

“Will theaters usher in an explosive movie watching boom after resuming business? Half of the theaters believe that it will take at least 3-6 months to reach the pre-epidemic viewing status after resuming business, and 37% of theaters believe that it will take more than half a year,” the survey added.

According to Variety.com, the film and entertainment website, the closures would mean a year-on-year fall in box office of 66% from last year’s 64.3 billion yuan ($9.01 billion) to 21.8 billion yuan ($3.05 billion).

However, a reopening that is delayed to October would cut 2020 revenues by 91%, down to just 5.79 billion yuan ($810 million), according to the CFA’s calculations.