Asian Exhibitors Challenged to Fill Seats

Live Sports, Meetings Supplement Film Screenings

HONG KONG – In a strategy that echoes 30 Rock fictional GE CEO Don Geiss’s invention of the night light for the sector of consumers not buying light bulbs – cinema operators across Asia are trying to expand revenue streams by making full use of theatres’ potential as multi?purpose exhibition space for alternative content.  

3D showings of events such as the FIFA World Cup last July in Japan had proved such tactics promising, as cinema operators from China, Malaysia, and Japan gave pointers on improving cinema profitability in Asia on the first day of CineAsia, the cinema exhibition and distribution industry convention held from Dec. 7 to 9 in Hong Kong.

Cinema operators are “facility managers," said Naoshi Yoda, managing director of Japan’s cinema circuit T-Joy, that provide venue not only for films but also other non-film digital contents. It is a strategy particularly relevant to Japan, where the overall aging population and decreasing young demographics are leading to a shrinking number of film-goers.

Alternative content also gives an opportunity for exhibitors in regions like China. “The best time for alternative content is when you don’t have too many films showing during that time, so that it doesn’t come into conflict,” China’s Apex Entertainment chairman and CEO T.J. Green told The Hollywood Reporter. “Because there is a restriction of films from other territories, we have down periods where there is an opportunity to show alternative content.” Given that, “China is, out of all countries, one of the most developed, in terms of the digitalization of screens. So that’s obviously the next step we’ll see in China,” Green added.

Operators also keep cinemas occupied in early mornings, to rent out as venues for events and functions, such as credit card and cosmetic launches and training programs, Malaysia’s Golden Screen Cinemas general manager Irving Chee said. In addition, cinemas are the only platform for 3D media campaigns, so screening advertising, especially those in 3D, will generate additional revenue for operators.  

For basic box office revenues, Apex in China, which has invested $150 million in 50 cinemas, has introduced loyalty programs and cross promotions with fast food chains and convenient stores, said Green. While T-Joy in Japan has introduced a city hub strategy that is based around big cities and not out of town multiplexes in malls, as well as a co-marketing strategy that unifies markets in the Asian region. T-Joy has signed through its subsidiary Amazon Laterna with Korea’s CJ Entertainment to form CJ Entertainment Japan, to distribute films across the two regions and grow a bigger market.

Concessions, the main staple of multiplex revenues, also gets a push to increase overall profit. For cinemas that run cafes, bars, and restaurants, revenues can rise up to 20%, driving the overall percentage of concessions to around 35%-50% of box office intake.  

A more inclusive cinema-going experience is the target, “we have to make cinema-going more fun,” said Chee. “Cinemas are not just places to watch films but also places for fun events, before and after the movie."