Screen test: A year of triumph and tribulation for the Singapore cinema industry

SINGAPORE – First, it was the pandemic. Then, in 2023, just as the releases of sci-fi actioner Avatar: The Way Of Water, comedy Barbie and biopic Oppenheimer were making the box office sing, the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes happened from May to November, causing major films to be pushed to 2024 and beyond.

The heady days of 2019, when Marvel superheroes pulled in record numbers in Singapore and elsewhere, are a fond memory.

Globally, cinema attendance will return to 2019 levels only in 2027, according to a report by accounting firm PwC, published in trade publication The Hollywood Reporter in June.

Until then, attendance in developed cities like Singapore will hover at around 70 per cent of what it used to be pre-pandemic, according to analysts.

The storms of 2020 through 2022 first claimed cinemas in quiet malls.

Cathay Cineplexes left its operations at The Cathay in Handy Road in 2022. In June 2023, the company exited the Cineleisure building in Grange Road.

Smaller operator Filmgarde also shrank and, in 2022, gave up its outlets at Bugis+ and Century Square.

Ms Karen Chia, assistant director (academic) at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management, says rental and operating expenses are “extremely high” for cinema operators.

“The party with the stronger financial muscle will be the last man standing,” she says.

She believes the “overall cinema experience” is crucial to drawing an audience.

Shaw Balestier reopened in March after renovations, which included turning almost half of its 11 halls into premium spaces.

In the same month, Golden Village opened its 15th outlet at Bugis+, taking over the space vacated by Filmgarde. It turned two of its eight halls into 40-seater premium Gold Class Express spaces, while adding a Spanish-Mexican dining concept, Azul.

Ms Laura Chua, course manager (diploma in mass media management) at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management, says cinema operators do not appear to be sitting still.

Amenities such as premium seating, Imax, 3D and immersive audio systems show operators are “taking measures to adapt to competition from streaming”.

She adds: “As long as operators continue to understand the evolving wants of consumers and take concrete steps to deliver beyond these wants, I believe cinemas will continue to have a place in Singapore.”

Golden Village staying golden

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