Asian cinemas get innovative to fill the seats: dog cinemas, “Little Mermaid” cosplays and critically hosted screenings

Asian cinemas get innovative to fill the seats: dog cinemas, “Little Mermaid” cosplays and critically hosted screenings

With movie ticket sales still lagging behind their pre-pandemic highs, multiplex operators across Asia have begun implementing unconventional strategies to generate excitement and draw people to the cinema.

Total movie theater revenue in the Asia-Pacific region was about $10.1 billion in 2022, down from $17.8 billion in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to data from the regional consultancy Artisan Gateway. In the first five months of 2023, several successes, such as that of Disney Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Japanese anime Suzume – helped buoy sales in the region, but exhibitors in nearly every country in Asia still have a long way to go to reach pre-COVID 19 highs.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly then, multiplex operators have started to get a bit experimental. Here are three colorful examples from across the region.

Four-legged filmmakers in Thailand

Earlier this month in Thailand, Major Cineplex Group, the country’s largest cinema group, launched pet-friendly cinemas at three of its locations. Dubbed the “i-Tail Pet Cinema,” the venues offer pet food and beverage concessions, as well as vending machines selling pet toys and accessories. The theaters themselves are open to cats and small dogs weighing less than 11 pounds (5 kilograms), but they must be kept in their carriers or wear pet diapers.

Ticket prices for humans at pet-friendly theaters are the same as at Major Cineplex regular theaters, and there’s an additional 150 baht (about $4.30) charge for each pet. The three cinemas initially offer regular showings on weekends only.

“The company decided to open these three theaters after realizing that pet owners are a significant portion of their customers at these locations,” said Narut Jiansanong, chief marketing officer of Major Cineplex Group. The Bangkok Post.

Pet ownership has increased in Thailand over the past decade and the country is now believed to have Asia’s second-largest pet industry, behind only China, with an estimated 8.3 million dogs and 3.7 million of cats, according to 2021 industry estimates.

“We hope the new venture will help attract more pet owners to the cinema and increase the occupancy rate from 10% to 30-40% on weekend mornings,” says Narut, adding that if the response to the screenings is strong Major already has plans to open pet-friendly screens in other locations.

Mermaids and Mermen in Manila

Disney’s live action The little Mermaid had a rough time in parts of East Asia, due to a racist backlash over the casting of black actor Halle Bailey as the lead. But in the Philippines, it became the biggest film of 2023 so far, earning $5.4 million as of Monday (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in second place with $4.7 million). The excitement for The Little Mermaid was on full display during a series of mermaid and merman cosplay screenings held during the film’s opening weekend at the SM Cinema in Pasay City, south of Manila. The showings were organized by The Mermaids PH community, who describe themselves as made up of mermaid enthusiasts, hobbyists and professional mermaid pool artists.

“By calling all our fellow Mermen out there, show the world we exist! Go put on your mermaid tail when you go see the movie,” the group said in its official invitation, which appears to have received a larger than expected response.

Critically-led screenings in Korea

South Korea has long been one of the most mature and innovative film markets in the world. Local industry leader CJ CGV has invented cutting-edge theater technology like 4DX immersive seating and Screen X premium large-format screens, and the country’s leading theater groups have partnered with popular initiatives like BTS live concerts stream in theaters at high-end ticket prices. But the country’s box office has also been one of the slowest to recover from the pandemic, and exhibitors continue to try new things.

Earlier this year, Megabox, Korea’s third-largest film company, expanded its reach far beyond movie fans by broadcasting World Baseball Classic tournament games to 51 theaters across the country.

Megabox and Lotte Cinema, another major circuit, have also organized activities to deepen the classic cinema experience, such as hosting special screenings of The Banshees of Inisherin and other recent Oscar contenders with prominent local film critics, who then conduct film discussions with audiences once the lights come on.