Box Office Transparency: Still a Problem in Taiwan

Box Office Transparency: Still a Problem in Taiwan
Photo Credit: Corbis/達志影像

What you need to know

No. 1 films at the box office may not be blockbusters after all...

The long-running saga over murky box office numbers in Taiwan does not appear to be anywhere near being resolved, despite a recent meeting between the government and industry players in Taipei.

The Ministry of Culture on Aug. 12 held a public hearing to discuss the transparency of box office reports with representatives from film companies, academics, motion picture associations and other personnel from the film industry.

In the past, Taipei was the only part of Taiwan that collected box office statistics, and an estimate country total was calculated by doubling the numbers for Taipei. The lack of accurate box office reports gave room for multiple film distributors to make concurrent claims to having “a No. 1 film at the box office."

Many smaller theaters outside Taipei operate under tight budgets and have difficulty estimating future audience numbers. Rather than splitting the box office revenue with distributors, local theaters often have agreements with distributors to purchase the full rights to show major blockbusters, which means they are free to collect the entire box office revenue.

The Enforcement Rules of the Motion Picture Act was amended in 2015 to avoid false promotion and boost the transparency of box office reports. It states that “motion picture screening establishments are to establish computerized box office systems and provide box office statistics to government authorities and designated film related legal entities or associations.” But the credibility of the box office numbers remains questionable because the reporting systems depend on each theater reporting their own statistics.

The hearing last week concluded with all sides agreeing to maintain the current reporting system. However, statistics are to be transferred to the Taiwan Film Institute and will only be made available to personnel in the film industry. Those wishing to view the numbers are required to register with the Taiwan Film Institute and will receive the information before noon each day.

In an op-ed in the Chinese-language Liberty Times, film critic Lan Tzu-wei (藍祖蔚) says “The reason box office transparency hasn’t been achieved is because the Act merely requires cinemas to ‘provide’ the numbers, but hasn’t given authorities the right to make the information public."

"Due to pressure from dealers in the film industry," Lan says, "the Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development originally planned to make public the statistics once every six months to a year. This is far from meeting the film industry's expectations of receiving daily box office updates.”

On Sept. 12, 2015, Tsai Cheng-hung (蔡政宏), owner of in89, a local cinema in Taipei, was physically assaulted by four men on his way to The Taipei Film and Drama Union. It is rumored that Tsai was attacked for making in89's box office numbers public on the cinema’s website, which may have affected revenue sharing between other theaters and film distributors.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole