With movie ticket sales still lagging behind pre-pandemic highs, multiplex operators across Asia have begun employing unconventional strategies to create excitement and entice people back to the cinema.
Total theater revenue in the Asia-Pacific region was approximately $10.1 billion in 2022, down from $17.8 billion in pre-pandemic year 2019, according to data from regional consulting firm Artisan Gateway. During the first five months of 2023, several blockbusters, such as Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Japanese anime Suzume – have helped drive sales in the region, but exhibitors in nearly every country in Asia still have a long way to go to reach pre-COVID 19 highs.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that multiplex operators are starting to get a little experimental. Here are three colorful examples from around the region.
Four-legged moviegoers in Thailand
Earlier this month, Major Cineplex Group, the country’s largest cinema group, launched pet-friendly cinemas at three of its locations in Thailand. Dubbed the “i-Tail Pet Cinema,” the locations offer pet food and beverage concessions, as well as vending machines that sell pet toys and accessories. The cinemas themselves are open to small breed cats and dogs weighing less than 5 pounds, but they must be kept in their carriers or wearing pet diapers.
The ticket prices for people in the pet-friendly cinemas are the same as in the regular Major Cineplex theaters, and there is a 150 baht (about $4.30) surcharge for each pet. The three cinemas will initially offer regular pet-friendly screenings only on weekends.
“The company decided to open these three cinemas after realizing that pet owners are a significant portion of their customers at these locations,” said Narut Jiansanong, chief marketing officer of Major Cineplex Group. The Bangkok Post.
Pet ownership has exploded in Thailand over the past decade and the country is now believed to have Asia’s second largest pet industry behind only China, with some 8.3 million dogs and 3.7 million cats, according to industry estimates by 2021.
“We hope the new venture will draw more pet owners to the movies and increase occupancy rates by 10 percent to 30-40 percent on weekend mornings,” says Narut, adding that if the response to the screenings is strong, Major will already has plans to open pet-friendly screens in more locations.
Mermaids and mermen in Manila
Disney’s live action The little Mermaid has struggled in some parts of East Asia, due to a racist backlash over the casting of black actor Halle Bailey in the lead role. But in the Philippines, it’s become the biggest movie of 2023 so far, grossing $5.4 million as of Monday (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ranks second with $4.7 million). The enthusiasm for The Little Mermaid was on full display during a series of Mermaid and Mermen cosplay screenings held during the film’s opening weekend at SM Cinema in Pasay City, south of Manila. The displays were organized by The Mermaids’ PH community, which describes itself as consisting of mermaid enthusiasts, hobbyists and professional mermaid pool artists.
“Calling all our fellow Merfolks out there, show the world we exist! Put on your mermaid tail when you go see the movie,” the group said in their official invite, which seems to have received more than expected responses.
Critic-led screenings in Korea
South Korea has long been one of the most mature and innovative cinema markets in the world. Local industry leader CJ CGV has invented cutting-edge theater technology such as 4DX immersive seating and Screen X premium large-format screens, and the country’s largest theater groups are collaborating on popular initiatives such as live streaming BTS concerts to movie theaters for top ticket prices. But the country’s box office has also been one of the slowest to recover from the pandemic and exhibitors continue to try new things.
Earlier this year, Megabox, Korea’s third-largest movie theater company, expanded its reach far beyond movie fans by broadcasting World Baseball Classic tournament games in 51 movie theaters across the country.
Megabox and Lotte Cinema, another major circuit, have also organized activities to deepen the classic film experience, such as special screenings of The Banshees of Inisherin and other recent Oscar nominees with prominent local film critics, who then lead discussions about the films with the audience once the lights come on.