Sun, Jan 26, 2020 - Page 6 News List

Wuhan Outbreak: Chinese theaters, studios protest free movie debut

VIRAL THREAT: Adeal to show a Huanxi blockbuster online as moviegoers stay home threatens to disrupt China’s media landscape, while the crisis has also affected other businesses

Reuters, BEIJING and SHANGHAI

A worker wearing a protective mask sits behind a temporary hoarding featuring an advertisement for Walt Disney Co in Shanghai yesterday. Shanghai Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall are among many tourist attractions that have closed as a precaution against the deadly novel coronavirus.

Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese theaters and film studios are protesting a deal by Huanxi Media Group Ltd (歡喜傳媒) to premiere its new movie Lost in Russia on Beijing ByteDance Ltd’s (字節跳動) online platforms, with some saying it was “trampling” and “destroying” China’s cinema industry.

The week-long Lunar New Year holiday usually sees audiences flock to cinemas with distributors taking advantage of the crowds to launch films, but the premieres of at least seven movies, including Lost in Russia, were postponed due to a virus outbreak which by yesterday had infected more than 1,300 people globally.

Huanxi Media Group announced on Friday that it would show Lost in Russia for free on ByteDance’s platforms on Jan. 25, and that the social media giant would in turn pay it at least 630 million yuan (US$91.25 million) for new movies and dramas.

Financial magazine Yicai (第一財經) reported on Friday on a statement issued by the film industry of eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, which threatened to boycott films made by Huanxi and one of the actors in Lost in Russia if the Internet premiere went ahead.

Another letter signed by 23 theaters and film studios was also circulated heavily in Chinese social media and reported by media outlets like the government-backed Beijing Youth Daily newspaper. Two industry sources familiar with the letter confirmed its authenticity to Reuters.

The second letter, which was addressed to industry regulator China Film Administration, said the movie would mark the first time in history a Spring Festival blockbuster would be screened for free online, and while it was legal to do so, it would break the current industry model.

“This goes against the payment and revenue model that the movie industry has cultivated over many years, is trampling and intentionally destroying the movie industry and premiere models, and play a lead role in causing destruction,” said the letter, whose signatories include Wanda Film Holding Co Ltd (萬達院線), Bona Film Group Ltd (博納影業集團) and Henan Oscar Theatre Chain Co Ltd (河南奧斯卡院線).

Wanda confirmed that it had signed the statement, but declined to comment. Bona Film Group and Henan Oscar Theatre did not immediately respond to calls for comment. Many offices are shut in China due to the national holiday.

A ByteDance spokeswoman said that its cooperation with Huanxi was a normal commercial deal to benefit the creators, adding that it also allowed more people to stay at home, rather than go out, given the viral outbreak situation.

Huanxi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many public areas including cinemas in Shanghai, the city’s Disneyland resort and even Beijing’s Forbidden City have been shut due to concerns about the virus, while McDonald’s Corp has shuttered restaurants in five Chinese cities, including the inland port city of Wuhan where the crisis is centered.

China’s worst health crisis in years has sparked fear and uncertainty for businesses from North America to Asia that depend on trade in the affected region.

Experts say it is too soon to know how disruptive the crisis will prove, but in a sign of China’s vast economic reach, even niche companies in the US have begun feeling squeezed. In Houston, Rockstar Wigs worries that production delays in China will hold up shipments. Omaha, Nebraska-based Home Instead healthcare has stopped sending caregivers to the homes of elderly clients in Wuhan.

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