More giving cinemas a miss: A look at some of the likely factors and how cinemas are battling the drop

People at the ticket counter at Cathay Jem cinema.
People at the ticket counter at Cathay Jem cinema.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Villains are not the only things going down in cinemas. The first three months of this year saw cinema attendance in Singapore drop by 10.4 per cent as compared with the same period in 2016, according to the Department of Statistics' latest figures.

The Straits Times dissects the situation on and off the silver screen:

1. SLOWING ECONOMIC GROWTH

While cinema attendance had been growing since 2015, the number of people visiting cinemas here fell by about 600,000 to 5.16 million in the first quarter of this year, when compared with 5.76 million in the same period last year.

Observers and film distributors ST spoke to said the economic situation is unlikely to have had a huge impact on cinema-going habits here, as it is a relatively affordable form of entertainment.

But while the decline in attendance might not be solely due to movie ticket prices, it may still have been indirectly affected by the economy.

 

Cinema patronage was not the only industry that saw a decline in customer activity during the first quarter of this year.

As a Golden Village spokesman said: "A visit to the cinema is very much a social activity... which is usually combined with a meal before or after."

Food and beverage (F&B) sales were down in the earlier half of this year, falling 3 per cent in April compared with the same period in 2016.

Taken together, the decrease in F&B sales could be correlated to the decline in cinema attendance, as potential customers would rather stay at home or avoid shopping malls altogether to save on food costs.

2. FILM CONTENT LACKS APPEAL

Another issue pointed out was the declining quality of films screened.

In the past six months, at least seven international box-office flops fared poorly too, in Singapore.

These include: Monster Trucks (earning US$196,760 or S$272,610), Sleepless (earning US$73,685), The Space Betweeen Us (earning US$120,000), and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (earning US$1.5 million).

Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell each earned only US$1.3 million.

In contrast, blockbuster films typically earn much more than that. For instance, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, one of this year's top earners pulled in about US$4.6 million from Singapore box offices.

Singapore Film Society vice-chairman David Lee said audiences "are probably getting tired of the numerous Hollywood sequels and franchises".

ST film critic John Lui said that filmmakers have had to change their subject material in recent years.

He said: "In the past, movies would be based off popular book series such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. But we've fished (that area) dry... we've not had a Harry Potter or a Lord of the Rings in a long time."

He also noted that other popular book series like Game of Thrones end up being shown on television instead of in the cinemas, leaving film producers with even fewer sources of content to mine.

3. COMPETING SOURCES OF ENTERTAINMENT

Some might be tempted to pin the blame on online video streaming services such as Netflix for drawing crowds away from cinemas.

However, in a poll conducted by The Straits Times on its Twitter page, 11 per cent of 1,500 respondents said that they preferred to watch movies on paid streaming services such as Netflix. This percentage was lower than the 32 per cent of respondents who said that they preferred to watch movies in the cinema.

Industry players and experts said online video streaming services were unlikely to be the key reason for the decline.

Still, another source of movies needs to be taken into account: 40 per cent of respondents claimed that they would rather stream the movies online for free, which might account for the huge drain on cinema attendance numbers.

There was also a significant portion - 17 per cent - who said that they do not watch movies at all.

One netizen, Mr Redford Lee, said in a Facebook comment: "It's because the price of a ticket rises until it is no longer affordable to some people. I remember years ago I wouldn't have to spend more than $10 for a ticket."

Another Facebook user, Ms Anne Maes Mary, said: "I can never enjoy a movie in the cinema in peace. There will always be folks and their kids disrupting it. I might as well wait for it to be released and then watch it in the comfort... of my own home."

4. CINEMAS FIGHT BACK

Regardless of the reason for shrinking numbers, cinemas here have been trying various methods to fight the decline.

Shaw Theatres offers vouchers and gifts on its website, as well as promotions and contests with opportunities to win free tickets and movie merchandise. It also launched a number of family-friendly programmes to make it easier for families with young children to bring their kids to the cinemas. These include “Movies with the little ones” events, during which cinema halls will have lowered volume and dimmed lighting to make the screening more pleasant for young children. Children under 90cm also receive free admission during these events.

WE Cinemas introduced ticketless admission via e-tickets known as Fastix for online purchases. The e-ticket comes with a QR code, removing the need to queue for tickets at the box office. WE Cinemas also sells limited-edition movie gift cards to appeal to movie buffs.

Golden Village created a mobile application, iGV, to make ticket purchases more convenient. It also offers e-tickets delivered to mobile phones, and offers an array of movie premiums and merchandise on its website. In addition, Golden Village has introduced automated ticketing machines, and increased its offering of Indian films, Japanese anime and live concert screenings.

5. WHAT'S NEXT

Based on the latest statistics, Mr Lui said the cinema industry would survive.

He said: "Cinemas in the past, such as Republic Theatre and Liberty Theatre in Marine Parade died out because they were not located conveniently next to MRT stations, or inside shopping malls... nowadays almost all cinemas are housed in shopping complexes located near MRT stations, so it's easier for movie-goers to travel there and do other things afterwards."

He also pointed out that the previous years of booming cinema business were partially due to the successful film franchises that screened during the time, and that these years were a "blip" rather than the norm.

He said: "The current situation will eventually stabilise - until the next Harry Potter comes along."