China’s Softening Ticket Sales Are Drawing Hollywood’s Focus

Over all, box-office revenue in China totaled $3.7 billion in the first six months of the year, up 2 percent, an alarmingly low growth rate compared with what the market has delivered in the recent past. The slowdown is one reason the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest Hollywood studios, recently hired an accounting firm to audit the box-office figures reported by Chinese theaters.

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“Transformers: The Last Knight” from Paramount took in $120 million in its opening weekend in China, compared with only $45 million in North America, but then ticket sales fell off a cliff.

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Bay Films/Paramount Pictures

Any uptick is positive, of course, but Hollywood is counting on China to deliver box-office gains that are substantially higher. In North America, ticket sales for the summer are down 8 percent, compared with the same period in 2016, according to comScore; box-office revenue for the year to date is flat. Analysts have been downgrading multiplex stocks as a result; Cinemark got that treatment on Sunday from RBC Capital Markets.

So as they scratch for growth, studios like 20th Century Fox and Universal have been scrambling to position themselves as bigger players in China, where the number of movie screens has increased to more than 40,600 from 12,407 in 2012. The accounting firm PwC recently estimated that China would have roughly 80,377 screens by 2021 — double the number in the United States.

Studios have even made minimal fuss over the censorship demands. China not only limits the number of foreign films that play in the country, but often asks for substantial cuts in those it does allow in.

Some Hollywood offerings have done very well in China this year. “A Dog’s Purpose,” made by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, collected a strong $88.2 million; in comparison, it took in $64 million in North America,…

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