The number of films released in APAC in February fell 49.2 percent compared to the same period in 2019, and the data for March is expected to be even worse.
Theatrical box office in the Asia-Pacific region fell 85 percent in the first two months of 2020, an unprecedented crash brought on by the emergence and explosive spread of the new coronavirus, says a new report from S&P Global Intelligence.
As alarm over the virus radiated outwards from China in late January, many cinemas throughout the region shut down, audiences began avoiding those theaters that were still open, and distributors canceled scores of new releases. According to S&P Global, the number of films released in the APAC region in February fell 49.2 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
China, which shuttered its network of 70,000 movie screens in late January, was by far the hardest hit in the early weeks of the year. Box office in the country, usually the world's second-biggest theatrical market, fell 96.2 percent in January and February. Just over 500 Chinese movie theaters, or 4.5 of the country's total, reopened in late March, but they have since re-closed amid fears of a potential second virus outbreak.
Cinemas in South Korea, the next Asian economy to contend with a major virus flareup, began to close in early February. Total ticket sales in January and February dropped 58.7 percent, while the number of releases fell 28.6 percent. Drive-in theaters, meanwhile, received a rare boost in business, according to S&P's data.
In neighboring Japan, sales were down 41.4 percent, with 11.1 percent fewer new releases. Australia's box office fell just 12 percent — but the country didn't begin closing its cinemas until March.
On the whole, the theatrical exhibition business in the APAC region saw additional closures throughout March — most cinemas in China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are now shuttered — so box office returns for the full first quarter of 2020 are expected to be even worse.
Week three of no theatrical releases. That will technically change soon — Universal’s premium VOD-opening “Trolls World Tour” has a handful of still-open drive-ins to play don’t expect any grosses reported. But it was a week full of important stories, with particular interest in a series of release date adjustments. However, no date can be realized if theaters aren’t open, and nobody knows when that will be.
• Exhibitor trade organization NATO held a webinar Friday. President John Fifthian raised hope that some theaters might be open by late May or early June. AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron, who oversees the most screens in North America reiterated his hopes for mid-June.
• With the COVID-19 still in its early stages of national spread, uncertainty about the curve flattening, and signs that in China, which had the earliest outbreaks three months ago, that viral decline doesn’t equal viral defeat, the reality is it could be weeks before anyone can make a reasonable assessment on reopening.
• Countering industry optimism that after weeks indoors, people will flock to theaters is a survey by Performance Research about public attitudes on return to public events. It saw 49 percent of respondents saying feeling safe about returning to theaters ranged from in a few months to never, with 28 percent saying if they do return, it will be less often. That said: This is a snapshot taken nearly two weeks ago, and shouldn’t be considered predictive. It showed similar or worse results for sporting events, concerts, and theme parks.
• Sports league executives spoke with President Trump, who urged resumption as soon as possible. However, Dr. Alan Sills, chief medical officer for the NFL, cautioned it is premature to believe that football can return this fall. Governors in some states that aren’t fully shut down, like Nebraska, encouraged voluntary compliance — with the threat that if the virus isn’t contained, their ardent fans might not have a season. Sports, of course, demand close player and spectator contact, and are more vulnerable even than theaters to the ongoing threat of contagion. But the idea that it is conceivable the country could have a year with no more sports is even more shocking than disruption to theaters.
• The key takeaway from multiple studio release schedule changes is, in re-dating titles, they don’t expect theaters to be fully operational until July at the earliest. Though key June and July titles like Pixar’s “Soul” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” remain in those months, “Mulan” on July 24 is the earliest rescheduled date for any major title. Other date changes act as a diversion while theaters are closed, but the reality is everything is written in pencil, not pen.