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Global Box Office Faces Pressure as Coronavirus Spreads

By Keith Noonan - Mar 2, 2020 at 3:07PM

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COVID-19 is going to have a big impact on the entertainment industry this year.

Variety reports that combined movie ticket sales in China across January and February came in at just $238 million this year, down from roughly $2.15 billion in 2019 as a result of the country closing theaters to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The entertainment-industry trade journal also reports that the Italian box office receipts were down roughly 75% year over year across the Feb. 28 to March 1 timeframe, and roughly half of the country's movie theaters have now closed. 

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is also having an impact on release timing and production. Walt Disney (DIS -1.07%) recently delayed the Chinese release of its live-action Mulan remake, ViacomCBS (NASDAQ: VIAC)(PARA.A -1.29%) announced that it's looking for new locations to film the next Mission: Impossible movie after canceling shoots in Italy, and more production and release shifts will likely follow. 

Empty seats in a theater.

Image source: Getty Images.

This year's box office will be down big

Theaters will have to receive permission from the Chinese government in order to reopen, and widespread closures could become the norm in other affected countries. The World Health Organization has advised people to avoid unnecessary large-scale public gatherings, and coronavirus-related concerns will likely make people less eager to head to the movies even if governments don't force or encourage theaters to close. 

With the spread of the coronavirus apparently accelerating in Europe and the U.S., signs that it's still having a big impact in China, and a weaker overall movie release slate compared to 2019, it's reasonable to expect the global box office will see a steep drop off this year. Companies that depend on theme parks for a significant portion of their revenues, including Disney and Comcast (CMCSA 0.25%), will be feeling the squeeze on multiple fronts.  

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