Chinese government investigators have revealed that production and investment companies have developed ways of faking cinema ticket sales, making films appear more successful than they actually are.
According to the BBC, these phantom tickets are boosting the box office numbers, which in turn pushes people to buy shares in the companies which paid for the movie.
For example, a firm might buy entire screenings, registering them as full houses when in fact they are empty theatres.
However, regulators have been catching onto this, pushing producers to now allegedly buy all the bad seats across many hours of screenings.
China is currently on the brink of becoming the world’s largest cinema audience, though it still continues to produce a surprising number of big budget flops.
Cinema journalist John Papish is an expert in the Chinese box office and said, according to the BBC, that there is significant conflicts of interests in China that would be illegal in, say, the United States.
“An owner of an exhibitor can also distribute their own movies and use their cinemas as a launching pad,” he said.
“They can manipulate the number of screenings in their own cinemas. Often times the third party ticketing apps also have their hands in the promotion of the films so they can push a film that they have an interest in; that they have invested in themselves.”
While corruption in the industry continues to fudge the numbers, the Chinese government has recognised the problem and is looking to clean up the market.
The National People’s Congress has introduced fines for misreported box office figures ranging from $7,000 to $74,000 and the authorities are allowing the Motion Picture Association of America to use an accounting firm to audit box office data in China.