The big picture: What Malaysian cinema operators have planned for moviegoers

Lotus Five Star is a main distributor of Indian films in Malaysia. – Glenn Guan/The Star

Lotus Five Star is a main distributor of Indian films in Malaysia. – Glenn Guan/The Star

Film-watching is big business in Malaysia and movie theatre operators are doing their darndest to get the biggest piece of the pie.

When John Lasseter, the head of Walt Disney Animation Studios, spoke to Star2 in Hong Kong last year, he mentioned that one of the things he likes about Asia is that Asians still frequent the cinemas. He probably brought up this matter as Western media reports a decline in cinema attendance – blaming it on either the lack of blockbuster hits, or pointing fingers at DVD and internet downloads.

But that is not the case in Malaysia. Despite the doom and gloom of box office figures in the United States, major cinema operators here are busy opening more and more halls nationwide.

In less than a decade since its venture into the movie industry, Lotus Five Star Cinemas has become a major player in the industry boasting 25 outlets and 108 screens all over Malaysia. It also operates the oldest cinema in Malaysia, the Coliseum Theatre in Kuala Lumpur, and is a main distributor of Tamil and Hindi films locally.

MCAT Box Office (or better known as MBO) is another new cinema operator which has seen a healthy growth. In the first quarter of this year, MBO is opening new outlets at Imago Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and Central Square Sg Petani, Kedah, bringing its grand total to 26 locations nationwide.

One of Malaysia’s oldest cinema operators – Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC) – ended 2014 on a high note by opening a multiplex at Quill City Mall, Kuala Lumpur – which boasts 10 new screens, featuring the trademark THX-certified hall and Dolby Atmos 3D sound technology – and recently introduced Dolby Atmost and DBox to its multiplex in Gurney Plaza, Penang. 

This brings GSC’s figure to 284 screens at 31 locations around Malaysia. (GSC also has 25 screens in five locations in Vietnam.)

TGV Cinemas is also looking at opening up 20 more locations in the next three to five years.

And that’s not all; there is also a new player in town – CGV Cinemas, which slogan reads “Evolving Beyond Movies”. It is looking at opening its doors to cinema-goers in the fourth quarter of this year with its first flagship at Empire City, Damansara Perdana, Kuala Lumpur. It has impressive plans to make the movie experience an unforgettable one so that patrons will commit to watching movies there. (see sidebar)

GSC was the first to offer luxurious cinema viewing experience in Malaysia. Photo: GSC
GSC was the first to offer luxurious cinema viewing experience in Malaysia. Photo: GSC

By the numbers

Opening so many new outlets make sense, not only because Malaysians find going to the cinemas a social thing to do, but the volume of films released has also increased.

Malaysia – with its racial diversity – brings in films from different parts of the world to cater to all walks of life. Hong Kong flicks and Bollywood films have always been a staple in cinemas here. Presently, films from Thailand and Indonesia also make up the bulk of movies released in Malaysia. There are also at least two local content that open every week.

“Festive season and school holidays always see an increase in cinema attendance,” shared Cheah Chun Wai director of marketing and sales with MBO. “And the nice thing about Malaysia is there is always a festival or school holidays.”

To attract the cinema-goers, each cinema operators have their own marketing strategies; GSC offers cheaper tickets on Wednesdays, while TGV and MBO have their respective loyalty programmes.

One of the more fun methods was done by MBO last year during the summer blockbuster period, which happened to fall on the fasting month.

“We were screening movies at 2am and 3am, what we call Double Midnight and Triple Midnight screenings. We did this for the first weekend of a blockbuster movie, and we had full halls. We had also gotten the best nasi lemak vendor in the area to operate on our premise. The customers could bring the nasi lemak into the cinemas, and bersahur while watching Transformers: Age Of Extinction,” Cheah said.

FYI, MBO is doing the same for this year’s blockbuster period. “This year the release dates of blockbuster films do not clash. So we can do a different movie on different weekends,” promised Cheah.

Multiple choices

Enhancing cinematic experience is something that all the operators strive for. CGV Cinemas takes it a step further. Its outlet, which is in construction stage since 2012, will cover seven levels and is designed to maximise the joys in watching a film.

Varghese Mathews, chief executive officer of CGV Cinemas, explained: “Our cinemas are purpose-built, meaning we tell the mall owners our requirements, instead of us trying to fit in into their space. This way our halls does not compromise on the 3S of cinema-viewing – which are sound, seats and screens. The film will be presented the way a filmmaker had envisioned and made it.”

He added: “From the time you make your way to the mall, get your tickets and food, enter the cinema and watch a movie, to the time you exit the mall, the experience has to be enjoyable. That is what we want to give our customers.”

Amping up the movie-going experience is something that GSC initiated when it started its Gold Class halls, intent on pampering patrons with personal service, luxurious seats and better food options.

Over the years, GSC also introduced GSC Signature – a boutique cinema which features Gold Class and Premiere Class halls. Although the prices are higher for these cinemas, they proved to be popular among those wanting to add personal comfort into the equation.

Irving Chee, general manager of GSC, said: “There is always a market for creating a premium experience. That is something that we are constantly trying to do – to supply the demands of both the general group and the more exclusive one.”

TGV has also ventured into the luxury cinema business, with its introduction of Indulge Cinema featuring its own lounge, restaurant with fine dining menu and exclusive 72-pax halls.

Currently, this is only available at TGV 1 Utama, but chief executive officer of TGV Cinemas Gerald V. Dibbaywan assured that the company is opening two more in Sunway Velocity, Cheras, and in Kuching.

NEXT PAGE: How high-tech cinemas are giving lights, sound and camera action that’s out of this world 

A rendering of 4DX cinema halls that CGV Cinemas has planned.
A rendering of 4DX cinema halls that CGV Cinemas has planned.

Sound advice

Picture and audio are absolutely crucial for a cinema, which is why GSC constantly makes sure its cinemas are equipped with the best technology.

“Our bigger halls comply with THX-certified standards, while smaller ones have system close to THX standard. We also look at the acoustic level, in terms of how to ensure the sound from one cinema hall doesn’t seep into another hall. Those are all the things we look at even before we start building a cinema hall,” said Chee.

In December 2013, GSC introduced Dolby Atmos sound system in its 1 Utama halls. Presently, GSC has Dolby Atmos halls in seven locations nationwide. Chee said: “Dolby Atmos is the sound to have in cinemas. I don’t see any other systems topping it ... never say never, but I feel it’s difficult for anything better because Atmos is a full surround sound – speakers on the sides, ceiling and at the rear, all enhancing the audio to a new level. The speakers can go up to 64 per hall, and each one serves as a channel for a distinct sound.”

Chee revealed that building a hall with such complicated sound system is neither easy nor cheap. “Each speaker has its own wiring and system, so a hall featuring this sound system costs us at least half a million ringgit. It’s challenging and expensive.”

Nonetheless, it is something GSC plans to continue implementing.

GSC has also introduced D-Box, which incorporates “immersive motion” to the cinematic experience.

Besides introducing new systems, GSC also goes through constant upgrades. Chee said: “As much as we want to add new screens, we always want to make certain our existing screens are up-to-date with the technology and the comfort.

“We also look at smaller details like adding leg room, looking at the fabric and the lumbar support. Although additional leg room or changing to bigger seats mean we lose at least 20% of the seating capcity, we want to provide higher comfort level. That is why there is constant upgrade in GSC cinemas.”

In a report published in The Star (March 6, 2015) GSC – a wholly-owned subsidiary of PPB Group Bhd – has been given the budget of RM283mil to open 11 new cinemas, upgrade existing cinema equipment, extend three existing cinemas, as well as possibly increasing its investment in Vietnam.

In the report, GSC chief executive Koh Mei Lee said: “At the moment, we have 284 screens in 31 locations. This year and up to 2017, we will be expanding to 100 more screens.” Koh added that the Klang Valley still had the highest growth in terms of the number of new malls. “When there is a mall in a strategic location, GSC will like to be in that mall.”

Tech savvy

Concious of the environment, GSC started its ticketless counters soon after smartphones were introduced. With this app, not only does it save time for cinema-goers but it also cuts downthe usage of paper for ticket stubs.

“We were the first ones to introduce the auto-gate,” said Chee. “It is our way to save trees. By the end of this year, all GSC outlets would have auto-gates. We are also concious of the type of light bulbs we use.

“For convenience sake too, we are working with banks for direct debit on ticket purchases. But that’s something we are still working on as we want to make sure it’s safe and secure,” said Chee.

Going digital – which all the major cinema operators have done so – has also contributed in creating less waste, with no need for a physical film reel or even transportation.

This in turn has provided film distributors with security (each time a film is screened, a digital key in the form of a code must be provided) and less distribution cost.

Technology allows TGV to centralise its broadcasting capabilities. Dibbayawan explained: “In the not too distant future, what we will be doing is to broadcast the content from one location. So with one hard drive, I download the content to my system and then I will transmit it to other locations. The cost of logistics would’ve come down tremendously. And the positive impact on the environment is substantial.

“We’re doing this because we believe in the consistency of the delivery of a movie. With a greater control, we can upkeep the quality of the presentation.”

With so much attention paid to guarantee watching a movie an enjoyable experience, it’s no wonder Malaysians still flock the cinemas. It’s a win-win situation both for the cinema operators and movie-loving Malaysians.

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Cinema , TGV , GSC , CGV , popcorn , Malaysia , GST , films