Chinese film market matures as growth slows in 2016
Growth of China's film market appears to have slowed in 2016, signaling more rational and sustainable development, according to industry professionals.
As of December 21, box office revenues for 2016 totaled almost 44 billion yuan (6.33 billion U.S. dollars), meaning the year's earnings are on track to achieve a modest increase over last year's total.
It took China eight years to increase box office revenues from less than 1 billion yuan in 2002 to 10 billion yuan in 2010. The continuously rising annual box office revenues reached 44.07 billion yuan in 2015, an increase of 48.7 percent from 2014.
Though ticket sales show signs of slowing, the market itself has been expanding. Latest figures show the number of cinema screens in China reached 40,917 on Tuesday, surpassing the United States to become first in the world.
It took China about a year to increase its screens from 30,000 to 40,000. Over 2016, the number of screens grew by an impressive 26 per day.
China became the world's second-largest film market in 2012. Earlier foreign assessment predicted China would surpass the United States as the world's largest market in 2017.
ADJUSTMENT OR INFLECTION POINT?
Zhang Hongsen, head of the film bureau at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said that one of the reasons behind the slowdown is that quality still cannot meet the changing expectations of viewers.
China's films need to promote the spirit of craftsmanship, Zhang said.
Rao Shuguang, secretary-general of the China Film Association, said that rather than an inflection point, 2016 marked an adjustment in China's box office development.
Statistics suggest that in 2016, nearly 1.17 billion tickets were sold between January and October in China, a year-on-year increase of 11.17 percent. China's film market, the world's second-largest, is still undergoing changes, and there is unrealized potential for box office sales.
According to Ren Zhonglun, president of Shanghai Film Group, box office growth previously relied on China's large population, but that will change based on movie release schedules, quality and box office subsidies.
In the long term, China's march toward a powerful film market has not changed, Ren said, noting the "needs and desires of Chinese people for high-quality films."
There is every indication that China's film market has accomplished milestone progress and change in 2016.
Chinese audience satisfaction toward domestic films increased in 2016, hitting an overall rating of 81.2 compared to 80.7 in 2015, according to a report released by the China Film Art Research Center.
After years of legislative research and three rounds of deliberation, the National People's Congress Standing Committee adopted a film industry law that provides a more certain legal basis for copyright protection and the truthfulness of box office statistics.
The legislative move echoed the Chinese film watchdog's suspension of the license of a distributor that had fabricated box office figures for domestic movie "Ip Man 3" in 2016.
Chinese regulators have also taken measures over the fact that some actors have been overpaid in order to control production costs.
China's film market has produced increasingly diverse cinematic styles, including The Mermaid, Song of the Phoenix, Soul Mate and the documentary Masters in the Forbidden City.
In December, The Great Wall, a historical action-adventure film directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon, was among the year's hits, taking in 600 million yuan in less than a week.
Yin Hong, a professor at Tsinghua University, said The Great Wall was a pioneer as a Hollywood blockbuster by a Chinese mainland director.
"Its significance for the industry is self-evident," Yin said.
Meg, co-produced by China's Gravity Pictures and a team from Hollywood, has started filming and is expected to be an example of "collaborative innovation."
Zhang Hongsen said Chinese films need to have a broader vision and participate in global market strategies.
Since 2016, in addition to inking inter-governmental co-production agreements with several countries, China has started seeking a better overseas distribution network. It is expected that in 2017, more domestic films will enter mainstream film markets overseas.