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Moviegoers purchase tickets at a theater in Nantong, Jiangsu province. China's theater boom began in 2010, when box office receipts exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.61 billion), according to statistics from EntGroup Consulting. Provided to China Daily
Rapid expansion has left the industry short of qualified professionals, Huang Ying reports.
The rapid expansion of movie theaters in China has boosted box office revenues as well as spurred a huge demand for theater management specialists.
The boom began in 2010, when box office receipts exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.61 billion) for the first time. The number of theaters surged from 2,000 in 2010 to 2,800 in 2011, up 40 percent year-on-year, according to statistics from EntGroup Consulting, a Beijing-based entertainment industry consultancy. The rapid increase in the number of theaters resulted in a shortage of qualified managers.
"During rapid economic development, the availability of human resources tends to lag behind industry growth," said Han Jian, associate professor of human resource management at China Europe International Business School.
A qualified manager must understand all aspects of running a theater, including operations, marketing, finance and screening, which is why it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to develop such skills, Han said.
Liu Cuiping, research manager at the Beijing-based entertainment consultancy EntGroup Consulting, said, "Nowadays, most movie theater managers are sourced from other sectors, such as hotel management, business administration and finance."
For example, Xu Qiong, general manager of Bingo Cinema in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, said that she entered the industry after leaving her managerial position at Procter & Gamble Co.
The shortage of qualified candidates has left theaters fighting for recruits.
Li Hui, assistant general manager of Omnijoi International Cinema in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, said: "I receive many calls inviting me to join other theaters. It's not unusual in our line of work."
Li began working in theaters in 2005 and has held different positions, such as waitress, ticket clerk and snack saleswoman.
Wang Guangmin, director of human resources and administration at Beijing Megabox Zhongguan Cineplex Co, which owns and operates two theaters in the city, said, "Qualified theater management candidates have a wide range of options when seeking job offers."
The competition for managers has led to a high turnover rate.
Some candidates seek higher positions and higher pay, but once they are hired, sometimes their skills are insufficient for their added responsibilities, said Li Yunling, training director of operations at a theater owned by Hainan Airlines Co Ltd.
"Those people just use their previous work experience as a bargaining chip for higher positions and better pay," Li added.
Liu from EntGroup said the turnover rate in the theater business is high because of strong market demand yet low wages, especially in second- and third-tier cities.
Some managers leave for other theaters, while some leave the industry entirely, Liu said.
Yin Gang, president of Cine Asia (Shanghai) Ltd, a theater solutions and services consultancy, said, "Competition for competent theater managers results in higher operation costs, which is undoubtedly detrimental."
In the movie industry, theaters have more clout than film production and distribution companies, said Cai Ling, a cultural industry researcher with CIC Industry Research Center, a Shenzhen-based consultancy. The high managerial turnover rate in the sector will have a negative influence on the industry's development, he added.
In order to retain the managers they already have and to keep qualified candidates waiting in the wings, theaters have come up with different strategies.
Some train their employees as potential theater managers in advance, so as to fill vacancies in newly opened outlets or to respond immediately to unexpected turnovers, Liu said.
"We try not to recruit managers from outside our company. We prefer to maximize the potential of our own employees through proper training," Wang from Beijing Megabox said.
Lu Yi, business manager of Shanghai-based Century Universal Film Network Development Co Ltd, which operates 20 theaters across Shanghai, Beijing and Jiangsu province, said: "Although our company is not big, our turnover rate is small. Most of our theater managers have witnessed the development of the company and have become emotionally attached to it."
Yin from Cine Asia said, "The fundamental solution to the shortage is education, but currently, only a few Chinese universities and colleges offer theater management as a field of study."
Beijing Film Academy began offering courses in theater management in 2010 in response to the widening gap between supply and demand.
"As far as I know, it is the only example of theater management studies at the university level in China," Liu from Entgroup said.
The number of movie theaters increased to 3,680 by the end of 2012 from a year earlier, up 31.4 percent year-on-year, according to statistics from EntGroup.
National box office revenues reached 17.07 billion yuan last year, registering a year-on-year growth of 30.18 percent. Ticket sales from 25 theater chains exceeded 100 million yuan, of which six generated sales worth more than 1 billion yuan each, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
(China Daily 04/06/2013 page9)