BEIJING • China's once searing box- office growth crashed last year, official data showed, as a weak crop of films and a cutback in subsidies caused a drastic slowdown in the world's second-largest film market.
Ticket revenue grew 3.7 per cent year-on-year to 45.7 billion yuan (S$9.5 billion) last year, a dramatic slowdown from 2015's 48 per cent expansion, according to official data from China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).
Ticket revenue had been averaging a yearly growth of 35 per cent for more than a decade.
Hollywood has a keen eye on China's potentially lucrative movie market, although access for its films is restricted.
But with China's yuan currency weakening against the greenback over the course of the year, the overall performance was even worse in dollar terms, falling from US$6.8 billion (S$9.8 billion) to US$6.6 billion.
The overall number of Chinese cinemagoers rose 8.9 per cent and revenue from international films increased 10.9 per cent, SAPPRFT said.
While it still grew faster than mature markets such as the United States, China disappointed forecasts that it could become the world's largest movie market as early as this year.
"At least this year's box office wasn't zero or negative growth in the end," a commentary posted on the website of one of SAPPRFT's divisions said, referring to last year .
"But this result, whether you're a movie person or an outside investor, none will be satisfied."
Analysts have attributed the slowdown to a poor crop of domestic films, the end of growth-boosting ticket subsidies and a crackdown on box-office fraud.
Still, local blockbusters such as Stephen Chow's The Mermaid had helped to fuel growth. The film earned a reported US$528 million in China alone, driving growth of more than 50 per cent in the first quarter.
Broader uncertainty surrounding China's economic outlook may also have weighed on consumers' willingness to splurge on movie-going.
Nevertheless, construction of movie theatres last year was robust, with 1,612 new cinemas built in China to bring the total number of screens to 41,179, more than any other country in the world, SAPPRFT said.
Booming box-office receipts have drawn Hollywood studios and a growing Chinese film-making industry into fierce competition for the Asian giant's movie market, which PricewaterhouseCoopers has projected will rise to US$8.9 billion in 2019 - outstripping that in the US.
In November, China passed a restrictive and long-discussed film law banning content deemed harmful to the "dignity, honour and interests" of the People's Republic and encouraging the promotion of "socialist core values".
The new laws also propose fines for those who provide false box-office sales data, a widespread problem as firms have been found to pump up ticket sales to generate marketing buzz.