After a slowdown in box office growth in 2016, and a flat Q1 2017, Chinese box office finally saw a significant growth in April driven by one film-The Fate of the Furious. Successfully earning RMB2.5 billion ($360.5 million) in April, the Hollywood blockbuster is the second highest grossing film of all time at the Chinese box office. The total box office generated in April reached RMB4.9 billion ($710 million), a growth of 56.6% over April 2016 (which is when last year’s slowdown began); while admissions also saw a 43.6% increase over the same period.
The first quarter was flat with box office returns almost unchanged and admissions dropped slightly by 1.9%. It is the first time in the past five years that the Q1 shows no (or negative in terms of admissions) growth, although the first quarter of 2016 displayed high growth on the previous year. It is also worth noting that a new box office reporting standard has been introduced in 2017 to include service fees charged by online ticketing agencies, an average of 3 yuan ($0.4) per ticket. If we eliminate this service fee, the box office and admissions in Q1 2017 go down further. According to data from China Film Fund Office, 76% of the tickets were purchased online in Q1 2017. This lead to a total online service fee of RMB930 million ($134.7 million), and implying adjusted box office drop of 6.4% over Q1 2016. However, if considering the outstanding performance in Q1 2016, in which the highest all time box office film, The Mermaid, was released, the Q1 2017 box office is far from a disaster.
With a few more Hollywood blockbusters coming soon in the market, the second quarter is estimated to post a better performance. The Fate of the Furious made a good start in April, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in May and Transformers 5 in June, all big name sequels with a successful box office history.
On the contrary of the flat box office, the Q1 screen growth kept its momentum with a 31% increase quarter-on-quarter. A total of 3,232 new screens were added in the first quarter, which translates as 36 screens per day. Normally, more screens lead to more box office, though the growth rate may not be as high as before as most of the new screens are located in smaller cities where cinemas will be smaller in size and ticket price will be lower as well. But in fact those new screens failed to bring more revenue in Q1 2017. Lack of strong titles is one of the main reasons behind this situation, coupled with higher prices in the market. The speed of the screen growth is dramatic, but the market needs to make sure other important factors like high quality film and cinema-going habit need to catch up with this growth in screens.