CinemaCon International Day provides insights into China

ScreenerBlog

CinemaCon, the National Association of Theatre Owners’ annual convention in Las Vegas, always opens with a series of events labeled “International Day,” which is fully justified when you consider that 71 percent of global theatrical box office comes from outside North America. That factoid was shared in the keynote address from Andrew Cripps, president of Twentieth Century Fox International, who also noted that 95 percent of the world’s screens are now digital. We’ve come a long way from the landmark digital 3D premiere of Disney’s Chicken Little in 2005; since then, the 35mm sky has truly fallen.

Also noted by Cripps: The Chinese market has grown an average 36.5 percent per year over the last decade. (The top eight foreign markets, in order, are China, Japan, India, the U.K., France, South Korea, Germany and Australia, a sign of the Asia-Pacific market’s formidable clout.)

For the first time, a CinemaCon keynote was delivered in Mandarin—a sign of the powerful position of the speaker, John Zeng, president and board director of the giant Wanda Cinema Group, based in China. A sketchy live translation was provided via headsets, but Zeng was abetted by an informative PowerPoint presentation providing details of the complexities of the Chinese market.

Though Chinese box office was down in 2016, from $6.8 billion to $6.6 billion, Zeng contended that the market “still has great potential,” especially in the underscreened lower-tier areas. Among the factors he cited for last year’s drop were the strong dollar, weaker films, the end of government subsidies to promote moviegoing, and the fact that the government doesn’t collect results from the growing rural market.

Zeng also provided a revealing look at which kinds of Hollywood films succeed in China. Action films with elaborate visual effects are a good bet; hence, the outsized success of movies like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Warcraft. In fact, China accounted for 50.8 percent of Warcraft’s $433 million global box office, while its domestic tally was a mere $47.4 million. Surprisingly, huge domestic hits Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets did not do well in China; Zeng attributed this failure to a general Chinese resistance to Hollywood animation (though Zootopia was massive there) and the fact that the characters in those films weren’t a known commodity for Chinese audiences.

One very hopeful sign: The Chinese moviegoing audience skews young: Moviegoers in the 18 to 39 age range in China account for 71 percent of tickets, compared to 49 percent in the U.S. In all, it was a valuable overview from one of the top new leaders in international exhibition, even if some of it might have been lost in translation.