CEO Series

Movie-ng With The Times: How Golden Village Remains S'pore's 'Golden' Cinema After 27 Years

Since 1992, Golden Village (GV) has been providing wide-screen entertainment to Singaporeans as the first multiplex in Asia opened in Yishun.

The Yishun 10 multiplex was reported to have cost S$37 million to build and began operations on 28 May 1992.

At that time, moviegoers could purchase stored-value cards for S$45 that allowed them to watch 10 shows, priced at S$5 a ticket, for the price of nine.

Business was described as “straightforward”, a 2015 Straits Times (ST) feature wrote.

Line up films that people want to watch, run a few advertisements, then wait for the hordes to show up.

In the years following the Yishun 10 opening, GV opened 13 other multiplexes, with the most recent one at Funan, which is touted as its most tech-empowered one.

The company is now one of the leading cinemas in Singapore, with 113 screens in total and innovative digital services that enhance the moviegoers’ experiences.

We got to speak to GV’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chia Chong Hai, and the firm’s first female CEO, Clara Cheo, on the brand’s evolution over the years.

Golden Days Of Cinema

GV is fully owned by Hong Kong’s Orange Sky Golden Harvest following Singapore-based mm2 Asia’s failed bid to acquire 50% of its stakes.

The company has always been one step ahead of its time.

When its first multiplex opened then, it was equipped with 10 projectors, each costing S$65,000, according to the National Library resource.

It could play a maximum of 20 movie screenings daily and a single film could be shown simultaneously across all the cinema halls, under the supervision of just one projectionist.

Video walls and monitors in the cineplex were part of the S$500,000 computerised information system purchased from Australia.

But when the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit, ticket sales declined sharply, and to make matters worse, video piracy was on the rise.

Golden Village CEO, Clara Cheo / Image Credit: ACCA Global

This happened just after Clara joined GV in 1996 as an accounting manager.

She revealed that she had almost given up on her job in the first few months of working at the company.

But she persevered instead and overcame all the challenges they faced.

Realising that movie ticket sales are limited by the number of seats available, Clara introduced a first-of-its-kind ticket-pricing model in Singapore.

The move “[incentivised] people to watch movies during the off-peak sessions by reducing ticket prices during [those] timings”.

The company continued to innovate, making its foray into mobile ticketing in a tie-up with Starhub in 2006 – a year before the first iPhone was released.

GV launched its iGV app in December 2008 and in just one month, it became the “No.1 download application worldwide”, according to its media release.

The app had set out to make booking tickets convenient, with just a “touch of a button”.

Always Innovating

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Automated gates at GV Tampines / Image Credit: The Popping Post

GV continues to improve on its customer experience as it launched its GV Mobile Ticket service in 2010 in its efforts to go green.

Customers only need to scan a barcode sent to their phones via SMS to enjoy their movie.

Now, almost 10 years later, GV moviegoers would purchase movie tickets online, either through the web or app.

A unique QR code will be sent to them in a confirmation email as their ticket to the movie.

This service called, Quick Tix, was introduced in 2013, the same year Chong Hai became CIO, and was one of the key projects he spearheaded.

He was also one of the leaders who called for the implementation of the Auto Gate system at GV Suntec, GV Tampines, and GV Vivocity.

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An Automated Ticketing Machine at GV Tiong Bahru / Image Credit: The Popping Post

Chong Hai was also responsible for the launch of the Automated Ticketing Machines across GV cinemas.

Instead of queuing up at the box office, customers can get their tickets via the machines.

The adoption of new technology is one of the challenges he faced when it came to introducing a new implementation.

“The ease of use is a significant factor as it directly translates through to a faster the adoption rate,” he said.

“Operational support of new systems, through staff training, is also equally important.”

He noted that operational effectiveness does not always translate to an enhanced customer experience and that it can be a steep learning curve for customers especially when it comes to introducing new tech.

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Event at GV Suntec / Image Credit: Golden Village Mr Popcorn

“It typically takes us at least six months to educate our customers for every new innovation implemented at our cinemas.”

Clara acknowledged, in an interview in 2018, that the labour shortage in the cinema business was a problem that needed to be solved.

When she became CFO in 2012, she decided that the company needed to “make a major investment in technology and automation” to alleviate the issue more permanently.

She said it was a “difficult decision” to make as they were uncertain if the investment would pay off.

“Fortunately, we’ve seen these initiatives pay off year after year, and we’ve seen growth in our earnings and market share.”

On top of helping them cope with labour shortages, they have value-added to their customers by helping them save time “which would have been otherwise spent in queues”.

On why she felt that way then, she replied, “Like most corporations, we have internal guidelines on investments.”

They had to justify any major expenditure and it was “particularly challenging” because it was hard to rationalise a cost that wouldn’t see return on investments immediately.

But they believed that as the market leader, they should focus on making the movie-going experience as convenient as possible for their patrons.

In Line With The Times

Along with keeping up with innovations, GV has also made efforts to revamp all of its cinemas, starting with GV Yishun in 2010.

Throughout the years, the company has continuously gone beyond providing an experience that’s “more than a movie”.

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A patron trying out the VR pod at GV Funan / Image Credit: Golden Village Mr Popcorn

The latest GV Funan is fitted with four virtual reality (VR) pods where moviegoers can play VR games before their show starts.

Patrons can also enjoy a quick snack or a hot meal at the grab & Gold café before, after, or even during the movie if they preordered with the iGV app.

Clara shared that the company has been working on GV Funan “for quite some time”.

“As a business we are absolutely committed to innovation and ensuring that latest consumer trends are reflected in our product and service offering,” she said.

“What you see at GV Funan is a combination of Convenience, Choice, Comfort and Innovation.”

“At GV we talk about offering our customers ‘more than just a movie’ and GV Funan is a very good expression of that.”

She shared that they were targeting the working professionals in and around the CBD area, so the product offering is geared toward the more premium side.

They noticed an increase in demand for premium seating in recent years, so offering Deluxe Plus and Gold Class Express seats made sense.

These are high quality, mid-tier movie-viewing experience that caters to young adults who enjoy the privacy and comfort of spacious seats but at an affordable price point.

All the theatres come with all-laser projection, making films sharper and brighter.

They have also expanded their offering to provide an all-round entertainment and lifestyle destination.

The Future Of Cinema

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A kids’ film event at GV / Image Credit: Golden Village Mr Popcorn

When asked about the evolution of challenges then and now, Clara offered her honest take.

“In the 90s, many new screens were coming into operation and that coincided with the Asian financial crisis period, whilst the industry was grappling with rampant video privacy,” she recounted.

“Cinema box-office takings dropped to an all-time low [at that] time. That was a challenging time to cope with for our industry.”

At the peak of video piracy at that time, the authorities acted swiftly and stemmed its growth significantly, Clara recounted.

Now, as technology has advanced so much, they face a bigger problem because people can easily access films through various platforms.

She continued, “While we work hand in hand with the industry to educate people on film piracy, our focus remains on delivering a first rate cinema experience.”

Another challenge they faced was the film classification system which requires mandatory age checks at the cinema.

The cinema industry is still subjected to these strict censorship guidelines which haven’t been updated in decades, she noted.

For consumers, this was easily bypassed by streaming or downloading such films from the Internet but it definitely hurt their business.

“As an example, LOVE SIMON, a film targeted at young adults and teens, is rated R21 in Singapore. LOVE SIMON was rated PG-13 in Philippiens and US, and 15 in South Korea,” Clara explained to us.

“This is an example of what keeps our core audience away from cinemas.”

On top of that, she noted, they also run the risk of offending their younger patrons with stringent age checks required by law.

“Customers (and parents) feel they have the right to decide what they or their children can watch, seeing as rated content is easily available online.”

Today’s customers are in full control of their entertainment consumption, and GV understands that “the days of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach are long gone”, Clara told us.

A Valentine’s Day event at GV / Image Credit: Golden Village Mr Popcorn

“There’s a plethora of entertainment options that can be consumed via increasingly accessible and user friendly forms of media.”

“To maintain and grow our share of the entertainment market, we need to ensure that what we are offering is absolutely in lock-step with what our customers are asking for.”

Clara continued saying that they must recognise the change in people’s entertainment habits and understand the core of what is driving the change and continually reinvent themselves.

Over the years, they have built smaller but conducive cinemas closer to where people work and live.

They have also introduced new formats of movies such as festivals, movie-thons, live content, and also expanded their range of cinematic content.

Despite the rise of video streaming apps and sites, Clara stated that they firmly believe that “nothing can replicate the fun, excitement, social occasion and audio-visual experience of watching a movie in a GV cinema”.

“Digital enablement has certainly added a further competitive dimension to the industry and operators offering a poorly delivered mass-market product will continue to suffer and will probably struggle to survive,” she said.

“But at GV, we have a very clear value proposition focused on product innovation and making the cinema relevant to people’s entertainment consumption.”

On the technology front, Chong Hai shared that the company will continue to explore ways to improve the customer experience and improve operational efficiencies.

If we can garner the support of our patrons to fully embrace our ‘BIN IT’ campaign, whereby movie-goers clear their rubbish after a movie, then it would, in theory, be one of the last major hurdles towards a fully automated operation; but like everything, this will take time, if, indeed its even desirable.

Chia Chong Hai, CIO of Golden Village

“With customer service being such an important part of the movie-going experience, I’m not quite sure that Singapore is quite ready for a fully automated experience just yet,” he added.

In Clara’s seven-year tenure as CEO, the company has seen their earnings grow by over 40% and have opened four more cinemas: GV Suntec, GV Paya Lebar, GV Bedok, and GV Funan.

GV has begun introducing exclusive movie merchandise at their cinemas, bringing in a fun retail component on top of their F&B and entertainment additions.

They are also working towards upgrading every multiplex to be equipped with the latest technology and to provide maximum comfort.

GV’s next revamp will be at their Gold Class halls in GV Katong which is popular among Katong and East Coast residents, Clara shared.

“We are constantly innovating and always looking to be the first local cinema exhibitor to bring in the latest cinema technology for our customers to enjoy,” she said.

Featured Image Credit: Golden Village Mr Popcorn

 

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