Shanghai Film Festival: China to Top U.S. Screen Total by 2017, Says Wanda Cinema Chief

Wanda China Cinema - Getty - H 2016
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Zeng Maojun says 21 new screens a day are being built in the country and that 80,000 screens is optimum number for China's population.

China will overtake the U.S. in total number of screens next year, according to Zeng Maojun, president of Wanda Cinema Line, the country's biggest exhibitor.

Speaking Sunday at the “Communication or Confrontation: On Capitalizing the Chinese Film Industry” forum at the Shanghai International Film Festival, Zeng said that China was adding 21 new screens a day and that the demand for new theaters was still far from maturity.

In 2015, China had 31,627 screens, an increase of 8,035 screens from the previous year. The MPAA's annual market review put U.S. screen numbers at 40,547 in 2015, a 262-screen increase from 2014. At a rate of 21 new screens per day, China should be just shy of 40,000 screens by the end of 2016 and is on track to overtake the U.S. in early 2017. 

, then people from all over the world who study film will learn Chinese instead of us learning English," the action star said during the Shanghai Film Festival. "]

Zeng rejected the notion that there was a bubble in screen-building in China, which some have linked to the vagaries of shopping mall construction in the country. With China's economy slowing from its breakneck pace of the 2000s, shopping mall construction has likewise slowed. Zeng conceded that some cities such as Chengdu were at saturation point when it came to theaters, but that there were still many cities that were underserved.

Wanda Cinema Line, part of the giant Dalian Wanda conglomerate that also owns AMC Entertainment in the U.S and Hoyts in Australia, has 6,000 screens in China and Zeng was bullish on the near-term prospects for his company and the wider market.

He added that China could comfortably support 80,000 screens, double the U.S. number, in the coming years.

Later in the discussion, Zeng revealed Wanda Cinema's push to increase its customer loyalty membership program, which currently stands at 60 million users in China. He also said that AMC was looking to increase its membership program from 3 million users to 10 million users by the end of 2016 and the company is seeking similar growth for Hoyts.

The Wanda Group hopes to have 100 million members worldwide for its various theater brands by 2020. This strategy to increase membership dovetails with the group's data mining strategy, Zeng said, the plan being to have more targeted releases for audiences by category, demographically and even geographically.