China puts off big holiday releases in view of coronavirus
A big draw for the Chinese during the annual Lunar New Year (LNY) holidays is the release of blockbuster movies across the country.
It was supposed to be the same this year with the release of seven big budget movies - expected to rake in big money - slated for the holidays on China's 60,000 screens, by far the largest number in the world.
Producers of all the seven movies announced Thursday that they were withdrawing the releases during the holidays - an "unprecedented move", according to Chinese state media.
The loss has already run into billions of dollars.
As the novel coronavirus rages across China, killing dozens and infecting hundreds, theatres are expected to run empty in the holiday season, a lucrative span for moviemakers.
The announcement became a matter of concern after Chinese experts announced earlier this week that Coronavirus could be transmitted from one human to another.
Experts have warned the virus can be passed from person to person, suggesting the public should stay at home and avoid crowds.
"As cases of the new coronavirus grow on the Chinese mainland, producers of all seven big films once scheduled for the lucrative Spring Festival holiday announced they would cancel screening on Thursday, an unprecedented move estimated to cause a huge financial loss," the People's Daily English website reported.
Beacon, the film information tracking service of internet giant Alibaba, show the seven films had pre-sold 536 million yuan (approximately $76 million) in total for the seven-day holiday before they were pulled off the calendar.
The pre-sale figures indicate "…they might have shattered box office records if screenings were not affected by the virus outbreak".
"Last year, blockbusters released during the Spring Festival (or the LNY) propelled the box office haul in February to 11.2 billion yuan, or 17 percent of total receipts for the entire year," the report said.
The People's Daily said among the withdrawn films were "presale champion Detective Chinatown 3", which saw its presale receipts reach more than 250 million yuan ($36.1 million), and Leap, a highly anticipated film which chronicles the Chinese national women's volleyball team from 1981 to 2016.
"The development is very negative. Difficult to estimate the total loss; (it will) depend on how long it will take us to get back on the right track," owner of a theatre chain told HT.
Cancelled mainland Chinese outings will now have a domino effect on overseas releases of certain films, reported the website Variety.
"Chinese regulations prevent a Chinese-produced film from being released outside mainland China in advance of a release within the country. There can be exceptions, such as those for major film festivals, but these need government approval," it said.
According to a 2019 report by PwC, China is expected to become the world's largest cinema market in 2020.
"In 2018, China's box office revenue grew by 9.1% and total revenue was US$9.9 billion. As a result, strong growth is expected to continue over the next five years at a compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of 9.4 percent, with revenue to reach US$15.5bn by 2023," it said.