China’s growing appetite for movies is expected to generate RMB65 billion ($9.28 billion) in ticket sales this year, according to figures released by Beacon, Alibaba Pictures’ digital platform for film distribution and advertising.
The Chinese box office had already exceeded RMB60.7 billion in early December before the release of highly anticipated movies, such as “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “Ip Man 4: The Finale.” Beacon calculated its tally by estimating sales for those movies, and others, in the final two weeks of the year.
Alibaba Pictures has financed 23 films this year, accounting for one-fifth of China’s total box office, the company said.
“Chinese moviegoers continue to look for great stories, and Alibaba Pictures is committed to be the bridge that supports both international and domestic films to meet their growing demand,” said Alibaba Pictures President Zhang Wei.
According to Beacon, Generation Z and Gen X represent the two fastest-growing demographics of moviegoers in China. The two groups, however, have vastly different tastes. For example, while many viewers born after 2000 rushed to see Chinese singer and boyband member Jackson Yee in teen drama “Better Days,” those born in the 1960s and ’70s were more likely to support films such as “My People, My Country,” a seven-part drama that was timed to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and was the country’s fourth-highest-grossing film of 2019.
“Chinese audiences and their appetites are evolving, and they are no longer limiting themselves to Hollywood blockbusters,” said Li Jie, senior vice president of Alibaba Pictures and president of Alibaba’s movie-ticketing platform, Taopiaopiao. “This year, movies with themes closer to reality and those with good stories are landing well at the box office and earning good reputations through word-of-mouth.”
Domestic films made up nearly 60% of the 2019 Chinese box office and included smash hits such as “The Wandering Earth,” the country’s first major sci-fi blockbuster, co-presented by Alibaba Pictures. The film release tapped into Alibaba’s ecosystem, using Alipay, Taobao and Tmall to maximize audience reach, said Li. “The Wandering Earth” raked in more than $691 million in ticket sales, making it China’s second-highest-grossing film in 2019.
The number of moviegoers from China’s lower-tier cities is also on the rise. To offer production companies additional channels to reach wider audiences, Taopiaopiao, Beacon and Taobao Live – Alibaba’s dedicated livestreaming channel – joined forces and used livestreaming to boost box-office sales during the 2019 Hainan Island International Film Festival. Chinese celebrity and actor Hugh Hu joined viral sensation “lipstick brother,” Li Jiaqi, at a livestreaming session to sell tickets for Hu’s latest crime thriller, “The Wild Goose Lake.” About 6.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the livestream, and all 250,000 tickets sold out in just six seconds.
“Livestreaming has become an innovative channel to promote film releases,” said Yuan Juan, general manager of Beacon. “The technology offers film creators a cost-efficient way to promote their work without having to travel from city to city. By stepping into the livestreaming room with a top influencer, they can interact with millions of viewers and boost ticket sales.”