Moviegoers line up in front of promotional posters for Chinese Lunar New Year films in Shanghai on Feb. 1, 2022.
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BEIJING — Chinese consumer spending on movies plunged during the Lunar New Year holiday last week as theaters raised prices to record highs.
The seven-day holiday that ended Sunday is typically the biggest week of the year for new movie releases in China, the largest box office in the world. Eight Chinese-made films debuted this year.
However, the total holiday box office of 6.04 billion yuan ($951.1 million) marked a drop of 23% compared to 7.84 billion yuan for the same period in 2021, according to online ticketing site Maoyan.
Tickets were on average 8% more expensive this year versus last year, the data showed. The average price per ticket on one day during the holiday reached 56 yuan ($8.80), the highest on record going back to 2017.
“A lot of consumers were complaining [it was] unaffordable for the entire family to see [a] movie,” said Gao Huan, Beijing-based managing director at consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal. “Moviegoers, especially those who have a lower willingness to pay, actually decided to stay at home instead of going to the cinema.”
Covid-related travel restrictions and neighborhood lockdowns have weighed on Chinese consumer spending over the last two years.
Overall tourism consumption during the holiday was 3.9% lower than in 2021 — at 289.12 billion yuan, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. That’s well below pre-pandemic levels, and about 56.3% of tourism consumption in 2019, data showed.
Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, pointed out that this year’s drop in the holiday box office comes off a high base in 2021, when the Lunar New Year coincided with Valentine’s Day.
Covid-related restrictions and generally weak consumer demand made it even more difficult for ticket sales to remain so high, he said in a note. “Anecdotal evidence shows that cinemas may have intentionally raised ticket prices in anticipation of much softer sales than last year, in order to compensate for the expected loss in profits.”
Alongside a global rise in inflation, prices for consumer goods in China have edged higher. But a roughly 1% year-on-year increase in consumer prices last year is far below the 8% climb in movie ticket prices.
This year’s Lunar New Year box office of about 6 billion yuan was a touch higher than the 5.9 billion yuan recorded for 2019, the data showed. Theaters were essentially shut during the holiday in 2020 as seven films delayed their releases due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Two years into the pandemic, China’s movie theaters have had to deal with intermittent lockdown measures, as well as changes in the availability of films.
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