Asia-Pacific Box Office Plunged 85 Percent in First Two Months of 2020 Amid Coronavirus

Wanda China Cinema - Getty - H 2016
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The number of films released in APAC in February fell 49.2 percent compared to the same period in 2019, and the data for March is expected to be even worse.

Theatrical box office in the Asia-Pacific region fell 85 percent in the first two months of 2020, an unprecedented crash brought on by the emergence and explosive spread of the new coronavirus, says a new report from S&P Global Intelligence. 

As alarm over the virus radiated outwards from China in late January, many cinemas throughout the region shut down, audiences began avoiding those theaters that were still open, and distributors canceled scores of new releases. According to S&P Global, the number of films released in the APAC region in February fell 49.2 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

China, which shuttered its network of 70,000 movie screens in late January, was by far the hardest hit in the early weeks of the year. Box office in the country, usually the world's second-biggest theatrical market, fell 96.2 percent in January and February. Just over 500 Chinese movie theaters, or 4.5 of the country's total, reopened in late March, but they have since re-closed amid fears of a potential second virus outbreak.

Cinemas in South Korea, the next Asian economy to contend with a major virus flare-up, began to close in early February. Total ticket sales in January and February dropped 58.7 percent, while the number of releases fell 28.6 percent. Drive-in theaters, meanwhile, received a rare boost in business, according to S&P's data.

In neighboring Japan, sales were down 41.4 percent, with 11.1 percent fewer new releases. Australia's box office fell just 12 percent — but the country didn't begin closing its cinemas until March.

On the whole, the theatrical exhibition business in the APAC region saw additional closures throughout March — most cinemas in China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are now shuttered — so box office returns for the full first quarter of 2020 are expected to be even worse.