The move was announced on Wednesday and confirmed by the Shanghai Municipal Film Administration, which identified the beneficiaries. In all $2.6 million (RMB18 million) will be paid to 345 cinemas, state news agency Xinhua said.
Payments will be made according to a scale that considers the number of screens at a complex and their 2019 box office.
Movie theaters throughout China have been closed for more than five months, due to the virus outbreak. They were ordered to close on Jan. 23. A small number attempted to reopen in April, but audiences largely stayed away, and they were quickly told to close again.
Since then, attempting to decide a date for re-opening has been a guessing game. The State Council at one point said that they were permitted to do so, but city and provincial authorities have been unwilling to give the local green light.
Cinemas have issued open letters pleading to be allowed to reopen their doors. They have pointed out that much else in China has largely returned to normal, including group gatherings, but China’s President Xi Jinping has suggested that people stay at home for the moment and watch movies online instead.
The subsidies in Shanghai may be a sign that the Shanghai International Film Festival is finally close to unveiling its plans for an event in front of live audiences at the end of this month. But the pay-out can also be read as a means to keep cinema companies afloat for longer, while they remain without ticket revenue.
Estimates of the damage done by the coronavirus to the theatrical vary. One government forecast, indicating revenue losses of $4.2 billion (RMB30 billion), now seems on the low side. Even less clear is how many cinemas will go out of business.