Hong Kong Protests Hurt Box Office, but FilMart Promises Business as Usual

Patrick Frater

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Civic protests on the streets of Hong Kong have hit theatrical box office to the tune of 20%. But organizers of FilMart, Asia’s biggest film and TV rights market, promise that their March 2020 event will go ahead.

The protests, which were sparked by a piece of legislation that would have breached the firewall between Hong Kong’s common law legal system and mainland China’s Communist Party-controlled judicial system, have now run for 22 weeks.

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Civil disobedience shows little sign of halting, despite the withdrawal of the extradition bill, and protests went from being largely peaceful until two months ago, when they became significantly more unpredictable and violent.

The darker turn of events has shown up directly in the direction of the territory’s box office. While June and July actually saw year-on-year increases of 23% and 14%, respectively, the subsequent trend has turned sharply negative.

August recorded a drop of 17%, September a punishing 32% fall and October a 13% decrease, according to data supplied by Hong Kong Box Office, a venture backed by the Hong Kong Theatres Assn. and the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn.

Despite that gloom, the message being promoted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council at the recent Busan and Tokyo film festivals, and again at this week’s AFM, is that FilMart will operate as normally as possible.

“We will put in place contingency measures such as shuttles from the airport for visitors concerned by protests or disruption to public transport,” sources close to the TDC have told Variety. “Similarly, we may expand incentives such as hotel room discounts for registered buyers. That’s because we know that if the buyers are there then the sellers will be too.”

The TDC’s approach of cautious optimism counts on the protests either dying down or that pragmatic folk will by then have adjusted to a new normal, despite the ongoing political crisis.

Some conferences and events have abandoned Hong Kong in favor of other destinations. The TV industry’s ongoing Asia Video Summit (previously called CASBAA) decamped to Singapore.

Others have decided to stick it out.

Theatrical exhibition and distribution convention CineAsia, set for early December, argues that despite the headlines, business activities are largely operating as normal. “The HK Convention and Exhibition Centre has been operating busily as normal every day and 46 exhibitions were held here between June and October… Cross-border sea and land transportation are convenient as ever, with multiple road and ferry connections. The Hong Kong Airport, after a short interruption early August, and flights in and out of Hong Kong, have since resumed completely normal,” CineAsia said recently in an email to participants.

Such a rosy picture cannot, however, be painted for leisure travel. Disney told investors on Thursday that there has been a “significant decrease” in tourism, causing it to rethink its planned expansion at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy told investment analysts that Hong Kong Disneyland revenue dropped by $55 million in the last quarter. She forecast a revenue fall of $80 million in the next reported quarter, and said that if the protests continue, the theme park could see a $275 million full-year drop.

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