Saturday, January 28, 2023

CineAsia: How Cinema Audience Behavior Has Been Changed by COVID

The decision-making behavior of cinema audiences has been altered by the more-than two-year COVID era – and not just by streaming – executives at this week’s CineAsia convention said. It remains to be seen whether exhibitors and distributors can keep pace with a pickier and more easily distracted clientele.

“People have no hesitation going back to movies for the right movie. But consumers have changed their habits in favor of blockbusters. [Cinema-going] is no longer a regular activity. It has become more event-driven,” said Koh Mei Lee, CEO of Malaysia’s largest exhibitor Golden Screen Cinemas. “[Exhibitors ] need to drive the habit.”

CineAsia is being held at the IconSiam complex in Bangkok after skipping three years – one due to the street protests in Hong Kong and two due to COVID – and has resumed with a familiar mix of studio presentations, industry seminars and a tradeshow that showcases the latest in-cinema technology. The APAC session was moderated by Rance Pow, CEO of consultancy firm Artisan Gateway.

“We’ve seen a slower than expected recovery [in Singapore],” said Mark Shaw, director of Singpore exhibitor-distributor Shaw Cinemas. Part of that, he said is down to hollywood titles that have shifted their release dates from 2022 to 2023. He also pointed to the interaction between cinemas and audiences.

“We have to make it fun again [show that there are] no more taped-off seats or masks. You have to pre-book everything these days. It becomes a chore and harder for people to get out.”

While other seminars have heard that rising cinema ticket prices have been largely accepted by consumers, two speakers on Tuesday questioned if matters were that simple.

“Changed consumer behavior is in part due to higher ticket prices. People don’t all come out on Thursday and Friday [like they used to]. They wait for reactions from trusted friends and influencers. That makes weekdays and second weekends increasingly important to a film’s box office success,” said Eugene Yang, senior VP of distribution and marketing, APEC, at Paramount Pictures International. “Therefore, timing will be ever more important in 2023.”

Cinepolis, the Mexican conglomerate that is now one of the largest exhibitors in India, saw a disproportionately strong recovery in India before that unexpectedly faltered. “After seeing the best quarter in our history, we started ramping up investment. Then the second quarter was the worst. That made us ask questions. We saw that admissions had gone down [with the impact masked by ticket price increases] and that tastes are changing,” said Devang Sampat, CEO of Cinepolis, India. Recent years have seen further encroachment by hollywood films into the Indian content stronghold, while 2022 has seen growing nationwide success by films from South India.

Rebuilding audience frequency and loyalty in Asia is unlikely to be achieved by a uniform supply of hollywood blockbusters and sequels, speakers said. In what appears to be a lesson partly learned from streaming, that means embracing diverse genres, audience tastes and languages.

“In the past we saw local films as a bit of a threat, now we celebrate the success of local content,” said Soupy Rathanamongkolmas, VP South Asia at Universal Pictures International. “While we can be optimistic, we also need to accept that we must do things differently.”

Her proposals included greater use of data, greater involvement by exhibitors in film marketing, better sharing between exhibition and distribution sectors, cinemas as part of the social dialog, achieving local relevance and customization.

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