And it begins with sanitation

Local cinema operators big and small may be eager to become everyone's go-to haunt again, but given the current climate, it's an uphill task to say the least.

Following a lengthy 15-week hiatus in operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting circuit breaker period in Singapore, movie theatres were only given the green light to reopen starting July 13.

And even before they can begin welcoming patrons back to the big screen, they were hit with rules and regulations that ensured no overcrowding can occur when business resumed. Plus, in addition to the directive that no more than 50 movie-goers are to be allowed into the cinema at a given time, social distancing has to be enforced via the cordoning off of seats and zones. 

Patrons, already inconvenienced, are further encouraged to book their tickets online first to prevent disappointment due to the limited capacity.

With all these restrictions in place, does it even make sense for theatres to open for business?

Safety first


GV Funan (Credit: Golden Village)
 

Leading the pack is Singapore’s largest cinema chain Golden Village (GV), with a comprehensive set of measures in place advocating safety and reflecting the latest Ministry of Health guidelines. All thirteen of its theatres now offer reduced physical interaction and enhanced hygiene standards.

That includes new implementations such as automated ticketing machines, contactless payment and the use of disposables for snacks. All these are set alongside the pre-existing protocols that GV had already put in place since earlier this year.

Their cinemas are also certified SG Clean, ensuring that the theatres satisfy the requirements for a sanitary establishment, with processes such as having an SG Clean Manager assigned to ascertain frequency of disinfection for all common facilities and that employees practice good personal hygiene.

Blockbuster hits a boon

But apart from ramping up on sanitation, how exactly do theatres lure folks to return? After all, the reopening comes following the reality that many have gotten used to lounging around the house with Netflix. The streaming service giant has enjoyed a lucrative first quarter in 2020 thanks to the global lockdown—it recorded a whopping 16 million surge in subscribers worldwide.

But it's argued that watching a movie on your TV just isn't the same thing the theatres provide.

“The communal watching and immersive cinematic experience is irreplaceable and avid movie-goers know this,” comments Flora Goh, Managing Director of United International Pictures Singapore (UIP), a movie distribution company that is jointly owned by bigwig film studios Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures.

To assist cinemas with the move back to the theatres, UIP will be re-releasing blockbuster hits like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Sonic The Hedgehog for film enthusiasts to catch, before rolling out other major titles including A Quiet Place Part II, No Time To Die and even Top Gun: Maverick as the second half of the year continues.

“We do foresee that the restricted capacities will have an impact on business but recognise that this is necessary for now. Hopefully this cap will eventually loosen up as the situation improves.” Goh elaborates.

It’s no secret that businesses (across all sectors, really) aren’t having it easy, and those in the film industry are prepared to brave the storm as operations resume. It's better than to not open at all. And as a consolation for viewers, cinema operators themselves aren’t keen on raising ticketing prices to cover their losses either.

When asked if patrons will see a hike in fares, a GV spokesperson mentioned that the chain is working on a couple of initiatives to mitigate the challenges stemming from the crisis. With the introduction of reopening promotions such as the M Pass, film buffs can catch flicks at even more affordable rates.

Going beyond screenings

Aside from the screenings of hits, cinema operators are also offering other services as they hunker down on attracting the right crowd.

“Gone is the one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one moviegoer may not work for the other, so it’s about broadening our offerings and creating choices,” said the GV spokesperson. 

"For instance, during the circuit breaker period, we launched our e-commerce store House of Mr. Popcorn on eCapitaMall, and also started providing F&B takeout through Foodpanda."

This broadened approach is also true for arthouse cinema The Projector, and it is something the independent cineplex had often gotten right before, being both a beloved indie film spot for alternative movie genre fans, as well as a place for underground happenings.

Located in Golden Mile Tower, The Projector, which also owns the Intermission Bar located right outside the cinema, most recently ran a The Projector Goes Dark campaign that attracted much success.

Knowing what's coming given the climate, the team worked tirelessly to move their merchandising arm online and garnered support through the sale of memberships, pre-paid movie vouchers, customised tote bags and Adopt-A-Seat opportunities (they are even ready to begin stencilling the seats!).

“This exercise reminds us of when we first started The Projector with that crowdfunding campaign. The coming together of individuals to support a cause evokes that same strong community spirit that really inspires us to keep fighting. It also gave us some breathing room to explore digital pivots and new revenue streams in the subsequent month,” says Prashant Somosundram, General Manager of The Projector.

Today (Jul 15), The Projector will reopen to 22 percent of their theatre capacity to comply with the 50 persons per screening mandate while the Intermission Bar will light up for business this Friday (Jul 17).

Along with a reduced 28 sessions per week (from 48) to allow more cleaning time between screenings as well as to manage human traffic flow, the venue will concentrate their efforts on opening Wednesdays through Sundays only.

“We will continue to build on new revenue streams that we have put in place in the last four months, including the merchandising campaign, food and beverage home delivery and launching The Projector Plus, our movies on demand streaming platform,” Somosundram adds.

With plenty of creative campaigns debuting since the circuit breaker period, expect even more from our local cineplexes in time to come, with attractive offers, more hit flicks, and tailored experiences already in the pipeline.