This is a real-time transcript of one of the sessions at CineAsia 2016. As such, we sometimes paraphrase what is being said by the speakers. Any errors are more likely than not our fault.
Instead of the customary MPAA Anti-Piracy Asia update – which was mysteriously absent this year – CineAsia 2016 kicked off with a panel discussion by the industry’s Wise Old Men. It was much the same speakers as last year’s “Maturing Asia” panel, the ICTA panel 2015 and ICTA panel 2014. I’m not questioning the collective experience and wisdom of the panelists, but given that that Ms Mei Lee Koh, CEO of Golden Screen Cinemas, received the “Exhibitor of the Year” Award at this year’s CineAsia, why is there still not room on these panel for a female cinema CEO? Asia has plenty of them, all very smart.
Moderator: Ioan Allen, Film Audio Pioneer & Senior Vice Presiden, Dolby Laboratories Inc. (winner)nd ICTA
Panelists: Irving Chea, General Manager, Golden Screen Cinemas
Sunder Kimatrai, Exec Vice President, Twentieth Century Fox International
Mark Shaw, Exec Vice President of Operations, Shaw Organaization
Mark Viane, Co-President International Theatrical MArketing and Distribution, Paramount Pictures International
Allen – Looking back on the topics of these panels in past years the issues have included sliding [release] windows, portable devices – 10 years ago the iPhone didn’t exist – promotin movies, changing demographics, room for new technologies, multiple brands of PLF.
Allen (question to panel): What has surprised you in the last 12 months? (Not US politics.)
Viane: After record year in 2015 we still had a great year this year. Goes to show that as an industry how powerful we are. Shows both quality films from studios and what exhibition is doing in terms of building new multiplexes and upgrading
Shaw: I agree. Other surprise is level of acquisition by a few companies that are buying up all the exhibition [companies] around the world. Yesterday’s news that Singapore fund is buying stake in Indonesia’s Cinema 21. Funds are finding exhibition an interesting prospect
Kimatrai: Many of the same things. Success of films is terrific. Also noted some outliers in our business speak to interesting trends. Success of Korean films – “Train to Busan”. Departure from norm. “Your Name” from Japan. Re-emergence of regional cinema, which had withered for a while. Films in one part of region working in other. Decline of 3D continues to surprise me. Disappointing. Wish that we as an industry could reverse. Other outlier is sudden emergence of 4DX and DBox in Japan which intuitively I would not have expected. 66 4DX cinema screens in Japan up from nothing a year ago. These are some surprising data points. Otherwise I’m with the others. Going forward
Chea: I would say same things. In Malaysia the studio side has been strong. Will next year be better? Yes, 2017 is looking strong. Regional content – “Train to Busan” was No. 1 box office film that we distributed. We see turn around in some territories but decline in others. It is a cycle that some markets have: some up and some down cycle for content. We never had a Korean movie doing numbers like “Train to Busan” did. We had three Malaysian films do more than USD $3m, whereas before they would struggle to hit USD $1.5m.
Allen: How is demographics changing?
Chea: Malaysia is young and staying young for a few years. We are also seeing as Malaysia ages, we are making sure all of our cinemas are friendly for senior citizens.
Shaw: Singapore is a small market but we are lucky that we had an influx of immigration so we still have good mix of young people. When people start working and have families they drop off in cinema attendance. We have Ladies Nights, Family Mornings.
Allen: Is that a change in last years?
Shaw: We are seeing more women going to cinema, Anything with Benedict Cumberbatch.
Kimatrai: There’s no getting past it; the region is aging. But there is a shift to women, particularly in emerging markets. We saw that a few years ago in China; we are seeing it now in India. As markets get affluent, we see consumption coming from women – across all genres.
Viane: From distribution standpoint, it depends on the film. What has accelerated is focused on digital marketing campaigns and how you reached audience through social and digital media campaigns. You have a few seconds to hook somebody. Instead of looking at it on a film-by-film basis, looking at 4DX allows us to target the younger audience and give them reason to come to multiplex and enjoy it. That solidifies a base for younger audiences to enjoy cinema and become cinema fans.
Allen: Is 4DX a gimmick or do people come back?
Viane: They are coming back consistently. We see that in returns rates.
Allen: When I was a kid you saw one sheets or an ad on TV or trailers, read movie review to build up momentum. Today there are fewer outlets. Do you agree? Social media does not have wide array.
Viane: Social media means there is less waste in terms of allowing you to target . Also enables you to get incredibly creative and have fast response to events.
Shaw: Danger of social media is this whole echo chamber
Allen: Don’t get me started…
Shaw: In the past you saw an ad in paper and you could not un-see it. Not so with social media. Out-of-home (OOH) still works, in terms of billboards, etc. But we stopped print ads five or six years ago for schedule and didn’t get any drop off. It shows up in their Google feed [instead].
Kimatrai; Our presence in social media only goes so far unless you create engagement. Fundamentally if it is not engaging it may as well be invisible. Can’t take away from traditional advertising. Outdoor presence will continue to be mainstay. Spread awareness and create intent. Trailering is way to get regular movie goers to know our film is coming.
Chea: There are two parts to social media: which customer base? Trailer and cinema lobbies [work] for regular cinema goers. Social media’s biggest end users know what they want. Trying to target extended cinema goers who are not regular movie goers [is the challenge].
Kimatrai: I worry about polarization of movie goers. I worry about Rotten Tomatoes. We have seen this in US, a film does not have a chance to perform if it doesn’t perform. My kids won’t go and see if a film that is not rated above a certain level [on Rotten Tomatoes]. It is much easier to fail.
Allen: I remember a conversation I had with a Fox executive in the 1970s, who said he though “Star Wars” would be a ‘sleeper’. (audience laughs) Sequels. This movie has A, B and C – people say.
Kimatrai: I dislike the term sequel. What we have here, some are sequels in true sense (“Lord of the Rings”), but in our ecosystem we have franchises with different characters and timelines, or spin offs. You have sagas, like our “Planet of the Apes”, where each story is self contained. But you re-visit the universe. Where pure sequels are concerned, we see consumers question them as too opportunistic. But if the engage with franchise, they come to them differently. They want to see what happens to characters, before and later, to understand backstories. In literature it has been very successful and has been for long time. A bad idea is a bad idea only if it s a bad idea. Sequel, saga or spin off is worth telling.
Viane: Sequel or not, a film will be a success if it a great film. Obviously you will have success with some franchises. At the end of day it comes down to quality
Allen: In terms of investment, is it more difficult to pitch a story that is unique.
Kimatrai: I don’t think so. There is examples of non-franchise that are a success. Look at “Avatar” or “Titanic” – there is no way you can have a sequel to that. A studio that is not greenlighting a new story has no chance to build for the future.
Viane: Look at slates; most of them are original ideas for any studio.
Allen: Let’s talk some technology issues. Is exhibition industry reliant on new technologies to compete with home?
Kimatrai: From where I am sitting, no, they have to do with seating, they have to do with retail. I have travelled and I’ve been seeing CGV’s bed cinemas. You can recline 180 degrees with a pillow. It was an unusual experience but with jet lag. It is highly successful. That is not really innovation driven. It is a flat seat, not a recliner, it is always flat. Works for a certain consumer base. Technology is not the solution, it is about exciting offering.
Chea: It is a combination. Technology in terms of three S: screen, seats and sound. Speed of evolution is going to be faster.
Shaw: Cinema is an experience and technology is there to serve it. If I have a laser projection but the cinema is filthy, people won’t come. Hygiene and customer service. We should as exhibitors invest in what makes a great experience with as little maintenance as possible.
Chea: Then we rely on studios to give us great films. Cinema is once again a social experience.
Viane: This business will continue to succeed if we create an experience that is unforgettable.
Allen: Great stories. Tell me about VR.
Shaw: I see it as supplementary. I don’t see it as people sitting there with screen on their face. Not communal.
Chea: Think back to 3D motion sickness. Still issue with some people.
Shaw: Imax are doing their thing and I’m curious to see it.
Allen: 3D was damaged by dim light. If you watch it with bright light you have good experience.
Shaw: My experience has been pretty limited. I have not seen VR where you are part of the story. Feels like you are playing a computer game.
Chea: It is a different experience. It is on gaming side.
Kimatrai: As an industry we have not figured out how it works. AR was waiting for a reason to exist and then Pokemon Go came along and it showed the potential with surprising consequences. Hordes rushing down streets of Taipei (see video above). As an industry we have not figured out how to fit it into the movie experience. Take a look at trade show floor to see if anyone has figured it out.
Viane: On marketing side you can create great experiences
Allen: Let’s go over to theatres. Which countries are most active building new cinemas in Asia?
Shaw: I’ve heard they are building in China. (audience laughs)
Chea: SE Asia. Vietnam.
Shaw: Indonesia. 600 screens for 150 million people.
Allen: Average number of seats?
Shaw: Depends on market. 250 screens for 5 million people in Singapore. So seating going down. 120-130 seats average.
Chea: Going bigger for event movies, smaller for family movies. Premium seating gives you hybrid of different seating. 4DX etc.
Shaw: Most of our new builds have an Imax and smaller screens.
Kimatrai: You would miss opportunity if you have large number of screens. You need 8-10 to handle all the linguistic groups. Malaysia: Indian, China, Middle Eastern, local and US films.
Chea: We talked about regional content developing. Average seats per screens coming down but screens going up.
Allen: US films’ market share percentage?
Chea: High 60s [for Malaysia].
Shaw: We are in 80s [in Singapore].
Kimatrai: In general local films are growing. The percentage of BO that is generated by studio films from US will diminish, that is why nearly every US studios is looking at local production. Identify remake opportunities from one country to another. In China we see Korean films being re-made.
Allen: Do you see Hollywood films being more adapted to be more geared towards China?
Viane: Only if it fits with the story.
Kimatrai: No consumer wants to be pandered to, so it has to make sense for the story.
Shaw: Lesson to learn is Hong Kong cinema, traditionally it was Taiwan and Singapore and Malaysia [that were markets for Hong Kong films]. Now Hong Kong films are designed for China market, but they don’t play that well in SE Asia any more. What we find funny is different. “Mermaid” didn’t do that well in SE China.
Chea: We see a slight resistance to PLF. The premium is about ?.
Shaw: The key word in PLF is ‘Premium’. It has to be special. Any territory can only take so many Imax or Dolby Cinemas.
Chea: In bigger cinemas PLF is quite essential.
Allen: 40 different PLF brands just in US. Do you see that world-wide?
Chea: I think that is already there, across multiple circuits.
Shaw: In the 1960s every screen was a ‘PLF’. Today if you want to charge more you have to give audience more than they would get in regular screen. Imax has Imax-specific scenes shot with an Imax camera.
Chea: Imax makes a big difference. People are willing to pay premium but if economy is slowing down it will have impact.
Shaw: If you watch superhero film in Imax you will pay for it, but for family animation and you buy 3 popcorns [it costs too much].
Allen: I rememebr the story of the father who takes his kids to the cinema and asks them, “do you want to see film in 3D or do you want popcorn?”
Shaw: The premium you can charge for 3D is shrinking.
Allen: Do you see less 3D content released?
Kimatrai: We are committed to 3D for our tentpoles. Many markets in Asia still deliver good numbers for 3D to justify it. Every other year you have outliers to boost 3D. I wish it was better, but I don’t think 3D history has been written yet.
Viane: 3D is definitely not over, China is one of these, but other countries too. Very important part of business.
Kimatrai: Man film makers committed to 3D still.
Question from audience: Politics has been changing in last few years from global perspective? [Confusing question]
Viane: We are not making films for a territory or region but for global audience.
Question from audience: Are theatrical window going away? When?
Kimatrai: It is certainly evolving. Theatrical is still important part of entertainment experience. So cinema going is not going away. Will consumers have choice of where to see films? Yes. It is question of timeline of where to see film. Huge diversion of practices in local markets in Asia. In some very early and some later. Industry has to find way to satisfy as many consumers as possible. Will continue to evolve.
Shaw: Putting on my independent distributor hat: The moment you put it out legally it will be pirated.
Allen: Is the lost income significant? IPhone experience is that it is not 100% loss.
Kimatrai: Piracy continues to exist anyway. It’s just that nobody gets to make money of that any way. So there is leakage from the system. The trick is to ensure survival of the system.
Allen: First 90 days is opportunity to market film. If you see it online on Day 0, then there is no chance to market the film.
Shaw: When we pick up [films] for acquisition we have to be aware of the windows.
Question from audience: Why would you chose to see a film at a particular cinema?
Chea: Distance and convenience. If all things being the same, you chose distance.
Shaw: Convenience. [But] They are never all the same. Cleanliness, service,
Chea: Now you have situation where the malls create an extended experience, where it becomes relevant.
Kimatrai: Popcorn, parking, can I buy tickets online – I can go on and on.
Allen: Is it in Dolby Atmos?
Kimatrai: My answer will vary on different weekends based on different factors.
And with that the panel ended. No doubt back again next year.