The Silver Lining Behind China’s Box Office Slowdown

Wanda China Cinema - Getty - H 2016
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Execs at the U.S.-China Film & TV Industry Expo optimistically see a more stable pace characterized by a focus on quality over quantity.

Chinese film executives are putting a positive spin on the country’s bearish 2016 box office.

"We’re still very optimistic [about the Chinese market],” said Wanda Cultural Industry Group head Jack Gao, speaking at the 3rd annual U.S.-China Film & TV Industry Expo on Wednesday. Noting that “there’s no way you can explode 50 percent year to year,” as the Chinese market had done through the first quarter of this year, Gao predicted a more “steady and sustainable” rate of 15 percent growth over the next decade.

William Feng, who oversees Greater China for the Motion Picture Association, explained that a big reason for the box office slowdown stems from the elimination of ticket pricing irregularities and the government cracking down on fraudulent box-office reporting. “With that big portion of fake box office being wiped out, there’s been a big drop,” he said.

Both Hollywood and Chinese executives admitted that the record-setting growth in recent years created a glut of product that wasn’t always up to standard. “If you look at the movies we were making here and sending overseas, a lot were sequels to franchises that we grew up with, but not [Chinese audiences],” said LeVision Entertainment president Adam Goodman. “We can’t just treat China’s mad growth like, ‘It doesn’t matter what we do, if we put it there, it will find an audience.’ The consumers want something that is theatrical-worthy.”

Multiple experts declared that despite the depressed box office numbers, the Chinese audience’s demand for content still outweighs supply. China’s status as the world’s second-biggest movie market comes despite the fact that its per-capita number of screens is still less than a quarter of that in the top-ranked U.S. And the country is building more and more screens (led by the Wanda Cinema Line, which expects to grow its market share by 2 to 3 percent annually), expanding access to audiences in third- and fourth-tier cities.

Driven by this growth, Gao ambitiously predicted that by the end of the next decade, China’s box office would be 2.5 times that of the United States: “The market is still growing, so it’s our job to get good content and work with Hollywood filmmakers to fill the need of that market.”