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We interviewed Loud Speaker and Red Box Karaoke to learn what business has been like over 3 MCOs and what they're doing to survive.

Published 2021-05-27 13:11:38
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Karaoke used to be an activity to let loose, sing our hearts out, and bond with friends for that 3-hour slot you have in a cosy private room.

But ever since the pandemic hit, the KTV (karaoke and TV) industry has ceased operations for over a year now. Without any income, brands like Karaoke Manekineko and Teo Heng KTV have closed down all their outlets in Singapore due to COVID-19.

Back in Malaysia, employees have experienced up to 80% pay cuts, unpaid leaves, and forced retrenchments. That’s according to this message to the National Security Council shared by Neway and Karaoke Manekineko Malaysia on their Facebook pages in February 2021. 

“All karaoke operators are already in a dire financial crisis due to zero revenue for the last 12 [now 15] months. The government must seriously address this situation before it pushes the family karaoke industry out of business,” Karaoke Manekineko Malaysia wrote.

The only certainty is uncertainty

Of course, the first MCO announcement in 2020 came as a shock to all sectors, as this was the first time gatherings and dine-ins had to be halted. Many scrambled, held emergency meetings and were fearful as to what comes next. 

By now, we’re more than a year in, and with 3 MCOs and a current average of 6K daily COVID-19 cases, this battle is far from over. It’s come to the point where even citizens can probably predict at least a week in advance when the next MCO would happen.

As karaoke brands have been closed throughout the lockdowns and even the CMCO, Red Box Karaoke’s group general manager, Dr. Giovann Ng, shared that they too are used to it by now. He told Vulcan Post that the team recognises when the next closure will be ordered, and are already prepared to shutter before lockdowns are officially announced. 

Karaoke Manekineko Malaysia even decided to voluntarily halt operations for a couple of their outlets when they noticed cases rising again in January 2021.

Loud Speaker’s rooms have been left empty for a total of 15 months / Image Credit: Loud Speaker

But Damien Soh, Loud Speaker’s founder and chairman, admitted that his team is far from being unfazed by the MCOs. 

“Our fate is not in our hands and ironically, the only certainty we can predict is uncertainty. Even when our prime minister assured us that there will be no more blanket MCOs after MCO 2.0, we are now starting MCO 3.0 two months later,” he recalled, frustrated.

“So yes, every MCO announcement is still a shock to us. And are we used to it? Perhaps we are getting used to being not too hopeful.” 

The chairman added that the persistent start and stop in his company’s recovery process has dampened his team’s morale and their spirits as they fear for their livelihood. 

What other revenue streams do KTV brands have?

All businesses have to find a way to adapt or risk shutting down once they run out of cash reserves. While gyms could monetise from their home workout packages, petting zoos like Farm In The City were able to sell their souvenirs.

And some KTV brands realised that they had something to offer during the lockdown too: their food. Part of the experience that comes with karaoke is the free flow of drinks, buffet food, and bar snacks to share with friends and family. 

Red Box Karaoke was offering some of its dishes on delivery platforms / Image Credit: Red Box Karaoke

Red Box Karaoke began offering meals via GrabFood and EASI, while Neway Karaoke Box partnered with Asian convenience store MIX to deliver their food and snacks. Karaoke Manekineko Malaysia sold beer packages that came with vouchers customers could claim for karaoke sessions at their outlets once it was safe again.

Loud Speaker was completely inactive during MCO, despite trying to sell tickets online to members. Sceptical towards the sustainability of this move, they quickly pulled the plug and incurred absolute losses while closed.

“We have not considered soliciting help from the public since this pandemic affects the livelihood of everyone and not just our business,” Damien shared, preferring to only accept customers’ monetary support in exchange for their core services once they can operate again.

And for a short moment, there was a glimmer of hope. When allowed to open after MCO 1.0, a large number of eager patrons returned to show their support.

Nonetheless, the brand had to cap their room occupancies to 50% of their original capacity to abide by social distancing measures. Meaning that if a room was supposed to accommodate 4 pax, only 2 would be allowed in at a time.

Damien explained that Loud Speaker has thus far only been able to operate for a total of 6 months since March last year till now. He also remains fearful of what would become of the family karaoke industry if the pandemic continues.

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Family karaoke is just one of the sectors in the larger entertainment industry as a whole suffering amidst the lockdowns; cinemas big and small have already bid their farewells. Deemed less essential amongst other “non-essential” businesses, entertainment services are always the first sector ordered to close and last to reopen, according to Damien.

While selling vouchers for their services may help with their cash reserves a tiny bit in the short term, the real change will only happen once it’s safe to fully enjoy leisure activities again.

Damien concluded, “All we wish for is that everyone can comply with the SOPs to combat COVID-19 together as a nation, as Malaysians. You may think one individual cannot do anything. But, be the change you wish to see. We may not entirely eliminate COVID-19, but together, we can curb its spread.” 

It’s worth remembering that every person has a role to play in flattening the curve once again. We did it before, and with the vaccine rollout picking up its pace, we can do it again. You can do your part by registering yourself as an individual, registering your dependants on MySejahtera, or if you’re an employer, register your company to get Sinovac vaccines for your employees.

  • You can learn more about Loud Speaker here, and Red Box Karaoke here.
  • You can read about other MCO-related topics here.

Featured Image Credit: Loud Speaker / Red Box Karaoke

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