China's colossal show market waiting for renewal after COVID-19

Updated: Apr 1, 2020 Print
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Singer Jay Chou performs with dancers in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, Nov 2, 2019. His concert tour was the highest-grossing one at box office in 2019, a report from the Lighthouse Research Institute said. [Photo/VCG]

China saw box office revenue totaling a staggering 20 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) in the performance industry in 2019, but is still waiting to break out of an ice age this year caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, according to a report from the Lighthouse Research Institute.

Statistics released on March 25 by the institute and ticketing firm, owned by Alibaba Group, show the total revenue of China's performing arts market in 2019 achieve a year-on-year increase of 7.29 percent.

When looking back to 2019, overall, the growth of revenue from live performances including theaters, concerts and tourism performances outpaced that of the film market, according to the report on the development of the country's performance industry last year.

Theatrical production revenue was about 8.4 billion yuan, concert revenue was about 4.3 billion yuan and the revenue of performances in the tourism sector was around 7.4 billion yuan. Earnings from theaters were the largest contributor to industry earnings, with the tourism performance market achieving fastest growth, rising 9.58 percent year-on-year.

Those people who were born between 1990 and the early 2000s have become the major audience for the performing arts, accounting for more than 55 percent of the total audience in 2019. Among them, the purchasing power of the post-95 generation continued to grow.

The insight report also named top three artists in 2019, whose concerts were highest-grossing ones – namely, pop singer-songwriter Jay Chou, rock band Mayday and singer Jason Zhang. Meanwhile, singer JJ Lin became the entertainer who toured most cities, followed by Jonathan Lee and Li Ronghao.

Two of the most popular reality shows in 2019 were offline tours based on Street Dance of China by video streaming provider Youku and The Big Band by video streaming service, iQiyi.

The report noted the per capita spending on concerts was higher than other segments, with an average of 1,525 yuan, followed by musicals (1,280 yuan).

Furthermore, the trends of cross-city shows attendances, and shows held in coastal cities are on rise, while Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin were listed as top five cities where people were most active in cultural consumption on films and shows.

The report also included a preview of the trend for 2020, pointing out that though the offline performance events are paused and suffering from huge losses due to COVID-19 epidemic, innovative online shows - from cloud music festivals, cloud concert to cloud theater, -could be a way out. According to the report, as 5G expands in the market, technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality will also make breakthroughs in both art forms and audiences.

The report is a full-scale performance industry insight released by the Lighthouse Research Institute, for which the China Association of Performing Arts provided industry guidance.

Most of China's performance venues are still closed, and big name concert tours have been postponed or cancelled. The China Association of Performing Arts estimates that nearly 8,000 shows due to be held in March were cancelled in 20 provinces and municipalities. In addition to shows cancelled or postponed during January to February, China's performance market has lost two billion yuan directly in ticket sales.

At the same time, when shows are scrapped, the performing venues are still paying tens of millions in rents, property management fees and staff salaries.

However, fans are still enthusiastic, hoping and waiting. According to, in average 66 percent of total fans who bought tickets chose not to seek a refund for their tickets. For Andy Lau's concerts in particular, more than 93 percent of those purchasing tickets have kept their bookings hoping to use them some time in the future.

The ticketing platform also offered three measures to help its partners during the epidemic, including not collecting any agent fees for the cancelled shows as well as providing loans and financial support for its clients as well as providing big data services and project evaluations for the delayed shows.

As China has curbed the epidemic, several cities such as Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing are gradually allowing theaters to reopen for performances. But things could repeat due to the epidemic development, for example, just days ago, China ordered some reopened movie theaters to shut down again. However, industry observers are still optimistic for a market recovery in the second half of year.

But as COVID-19 pandemic spreads to the world, theaters worldwide started to shut down too, including iconic New York Broadway musicals and London West End shows. Even the globally popular Cirque du Soleil is exploring debt restructuring options that include a potential bankruptcy filing, after it was forced to cancel shows because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to people familiar with the matter.

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