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China will be bigger for the box office than the US next year: PwC

Chinese filmgoers and fans of Warcraft attend a premiere of the movie "Warcraft" at a cinema in Shanghai, China, 7 June 2016.
Imaginechina | AP
Chinese filmgoers and fans of Warcraft attend a premiere of the movie "Warcraft" at a cinema in Shanghai, China, 7 June 2016.

China — not the U.S. — is projected to be the leader in box office revenue in 2017, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The PwC projections were released on Wednesday in the new "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2016-2020: A World of Differences" report.

If true, it will mark the first time that the U.S. has not been the top revenue driver in an entertainment and media segment. The Chinese box office is expected to generate $10.3 billion next year, while the U.S. will be at $10.1 billion. By 2020, the Chinese box office will reach $15.1 billion versus just $11 billion in the U.S.

Matt Lieberman, director at PwC, told CNBC that it is seeing Chinese general audiences especially look for fantasy, animation and family-friendly movies.

China's restrictive media environment does pose some issues. It currently only allows 34 non-Chinese movies a year, meaning that Hollywood will have to compete with other global producers to get into the country.

As a result, Deborah Bothun, global leader in entertainment and media and U.S. leader of entertainment, media and communications at PwC, said there will be more American media companies seeking out Chinese media partners to help them navigate the rules. Already the Chinese digital-savvy middle class has been attracting many U.S. media companies, including Vice Media and The Hollywood Reporter.

"Because of the genre and content restrictions, there's opportunities to be on the ground, but (media companies) need to work with someone local to understand restrictions," Bothun said at an event for the report.

There's also the issue that the Chinese box office has a less generous revenue split with media companies than existing deals in the U.S.

China gave up 25 percent of box office revenue in 2016, up from 13 percent the year before, according to Lieberman. However, most deals in the U.S. are around 50 percent. There's also issues around tracking and auditing Chinese box office receipts, he added.

On the flipside, there's also a huge opportunity for Chinese media companies to expand in the U.S. As a result, Chinese media companies are seeking opportunities to expand into the U.S. Lieberman said because of the country's rules on media, it has a wealth of family-friendly content it can export.

"Expats from China are driving the trend," Lieberman said. "They want to see content from China."