Author’s Blurb: I’ve watched a few movies online before that made me think, “I regret not watching this in cinemas when it came out”. While I’m eager to visit the cinemas again with friends when the pandemic is over, I believe that cinemas will have to work hard to regain customer confidence, seeing as how cinemas are one of the public places where crowds of people are gathered for an extended duration.
Being unable to head out to the movies after a work day or during the weekends, there’s no doubt that many of us have turned to online streaming services, some of which are even free like Kanopy and Plex.
While they can’t replace the joy of going to the movies, we remain satisfied by how affordable and accessible these services are.
On the flip side, cinemas are struggling. While they’re not on the verge of closing down, they’re seeing practically no revenue from the sales of movie tickets (with the exception of vouchers and promos for post-MCO).
How then are they handling the ever-extending MCO, and how will they bring back their customers post-MCO? We find out from 3 of Malaysia’s biggest cinema chains.
1. Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC)
GSC’s CEO Koh Mei Lee told Vulcan Post that instead of driving promotions or sales for after the end of MCO, they’ve taken a different approach to marketing.
They turned to their social media platforms to engage their audience instead, and worked with mall partners and NGOs to provide supplies to frontliners and the underprivileged.
However, they also received requests from fans who miss their cinema snacks like popcorn and chicken nuggets. Seeing this demand, GSC began offering these snacks via GrabFood from a few of their cinemas.
Nonetheless, they still need to be prudent with spending.
“We have deferred all cinema refurbishments planned for this year to 2021, ceased discretionary and non-essential spending and increased operational efficiency through manpower management. Additionally, we are in discussions with our landlords on rental reductions during this difficult period,” Mei Lee shared.
When They Open Their Doors Again
Of course, while both cinemas and moviegoers are excited for operations to resume, as a consumer, one still can’t help but worry about the what-ifs and risks of returning.
Pre-MCO, GSC was already cleaning and disinfecting frequently used facilities like e-kiosks, counter tops, door handles, etc. and will be increasing sanitisation following reopening, which will also include disinfection and thorough cleaning of hall seats after every show.
To alleviate moviegoers’ fears, the initiatives they’ll be taking when reopened include:
- Providing hand sanitisers at check points, Box Office ticketing counters, and concession counters,
- Placing distance markers throughout the cinemas leading up to the halls, and GSC staff will be controlling the number of people in a common area at any one time,
- Carrying out mandatory temperature checks on all guests and employees, with the latter wearing face masks too,
- In the halls themselves, GSC will implement social distancing seating by having each individual separated by one seat’s width on their left and right, front and back. This will also limit the number of people in the halls, with audience capacity being reduced to 50% or less.
Furthermore, moviegoers will be encouraged to purchase their movie tickets and concessions online instead.
As for when GSC will reopen, Mei Lee shared that they are simply observing the day-to-day developments around the country first. Despite their intention to reopen as soon as circumstances allow, they’d like to put people’s health and well-being first.
She also believes it will take time for moviegoers to develop the confidence to return to cinemas, not only because of the health crisis but also because they’ll be more careful with their spending on entertainment.
“However, we are optimistic that with the enhanced precautionary measures implemented by cinemas, people who are generally social beings will return to the communal experience of watching movies on the big screen especially when their long awaited favourite blockbusters are playing,” Mei Lee said.
When they return, they will rediscover the immersive, state-of-the art, entertainment experience on the big screen, which cannot be replicated at home.Koh Mei Lee, CEO of GSC
2. MBO Cinemas
With no walk-in customers, MBO Cinemas reached out to moviegoers via e-commerce by putting up attractive voucher promotions on Shopee and Digi Rewards.
Since the beginning of the year, post-CNY, MBO Cinemas has also been negotiating with malls for a rental rebate and payment ‘holiday’, but are still awaiting a positive reply.
According to COO Cheah Chun Wai, MBO Cinemas does not qualify as a SME, and thus does not get most of the benefits introduced by the government. Furthermore, they do not get an automatic moratorium on their loans.
Therefore, they’ve had no choice but to trim down their manpower, as it is one of their highest fixed costs, apart from the rentals and utilities.
When They Open Their Doors Again
Prior to the MCO, MBO Cinemas had already launched its ‘We Care’ initiatives with the aim of making their cinemas safer than our workplaces.
Some of the initiatives they launched to protect employees and moviegoers include:
- Daily disinfection in all halls and throughout the cinema area, along with seat disinfections between shows,
- Social distance seating, with a 1-row gap (front and back) and a 2-seat gap (left and right) between moviegoers,
- Encouraging the usage of face masks during movies,
- Temperature checks at ticketing counters,
- Sanitisers stationed throughout the cinemas and antibacterial wipes available upon request,
- Implementing social distancing at the Box Office counters, concession counters, and ticketing kiosks.
Chun Wai is definitely looking forward to reopening once the MCO is lifted, as he said they will need to build up the momentum after the MCO and fulfil their obligations to the malls as well.
“In the very near term, [customers] will be wary but with the reduced number of new cases and practicing the new norm, cinema will ramp up again slowly, especially with the releases of new content/movies from July onwards,” he shared with Vulcan Post.
We are all social beings, that’s why it’s difficult to get everyone to abide staying at home. Cinemas are badly affected now, but once the fear is controlled/subsided, people will start going to the malls to shop, eat, and catch a movie!Cheah Chun Wai, COO of MBO Cinemas
3. TGV Cinemas
Yeoh Oon Lai, CEO of TGV Cinemas told Vulcan Post that they did not anticipate the MCO to last this long. To date, they have not been operational and thus have no sales, but they have been planning to offer special vouchers and promotions for use post-MCO.
“For us in entertainment, the wait to reopen continues, and the industry will probably restart only sometime in June or possibly July,” he predicted.
The greatest impact to TGV Cinemas has not only been on their revenue, but also their frontline workers who remain idle at the moment. Therefore, they’ve utilised various government programmes such as the ERP and WSP, and have reduced discretionary expenses.
“The silver lining is that the present situation has catalysed a lot of internal study and scrutiny of all our processes and everything we do. As a result of this, we will evolve into a more efficient and nimble organisation,” Oon Lai commented.
When They Open Their Doors Again
Upon reopening, TGV Cinemas will be reducing its operating hours as they gradually scale up operations once again.
Drawing from what happened in China with how cinemas had reopened earlier in the year and later reclosed again after the public failed to show up, Oon Lai shared some observations.
He noted that timing would be key, and rushing into a reopening would be risky. The gradual soft-landing approach by the government whereby the economy is reopened in stages is ideal.
“We anticipate that entertainment will be the last category to reopen and as painful as that will be, we are supportive as the psyche of the customer needs to recover, they have to re-establish a comfort level towards public spaces with many strangers present and this will take time,” he stated.
Regarding safety, they will be prioritising:
- Hand sanitisers being placed throughout all locations and increasing overall cleanliness,
- Temperature checks for customers at ticket-tearing points,
- Temperature checks for employees twice a day, along with mask-wearing and hand-washing protocols,
- Social distance markers placed at all queue zones, including washrooms,
- Social distance seating plans in line with the WHO’s recommendations of two empty seats on the left and right and an alternating row of patrons,
- Increasing the break between movie sessions (a minimum of 30 minutes) to allow thorough sanitisation of halls,
- #TGVCares public service announcements (PSAs) displayed all over.
But Oon Lai is also aware that safety precautions alone might not be enough to bring customers back so soon; it has to be a combination of the right timing, safety, and content.
The key obstacle to a recovery is the global disruption of the content supply chain with many blockbuster titles rescheduled to later in the year and some into 2021 as the Hollywood studios experienced a major disruption.Yeoh Oon Lai, CEO of TGV Cinemas
“We’ll ease our way back into the public with creative re-packaging of some old favourites initially but the real test will be in mid to late July with 2 major titles releasing i.e. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ and Disney’s ‘Mulan’,” he added.
He sees these as two highly anticipated titles which should entice audiences back into cinemas, and said that the industry is pointed towards this as the real restart catalyst.
Bottom Line: Like the 3 cinemas have said, I think Malaysians are eager to return to cinemas as long as there are safety measures. The experience of watching a movie on a big screen and with top-notch audio all-around simply can’t be beat, unless you’re lucky enough to have your own home theatre.
- You can read more about what we’ve written on the MCO here.
Featured Image Credit: TGV Cinemas