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Cinema attendance down 10 per cent in first quarter of 2017

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A weaker crop of movies may have led to a 10.4 per cent dip in cinema attendance in the first three months of this year, compared with the figure in the same period last year.

Industry players and experts said online video streaming services, such as Netflix, which has been in Singapore since January last year, were unlikely to be the reason for the decline.

According to the latest figures published by the Department of Statistics, about 5.16 million people visited cinemas here in the first quarter of this year, compared with about 5.76 million last year, bucking an upward trend since 2015.

The last drop in cinema-going numbers for the first quarter of the year was in 2014, when attendance fell 9.3 per cent from the year before.

On this year’s drop, Singapore Film Society vice-chairman David Lee said audiences “are probably getting tired of the numerous Hollywood sequels and franchises”.

Noting how the tent-pole movie franchises this year – X-Men, Spider-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy and Transformers – were “uncannily similar” to those in 2014, he said cinemas here should strive for more diverse programming, to compete against online or over-the-top platforms.

Ms Joyce Lee, managing director of film distributor Encore Films, said: “Chinese New Year, which takes place during the first quarter, is an important festive season for cinemas, and the slate of movies this year was weaker compared with 2016.”

However, she said the 10 per cent dip should be offset by a better performance in the second and third quarters, because the line-up of summer blockbusters from this month onwards is “strong”.

Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun, from Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, suggested that fewer elderly people might be visiting cinemas as they find the experience to be “quite daunting” – from the process of booking tickets to travelling to the top floor of a shopping complex to catch a film.

Observers and film distributors The Straits Times spoke to said the economy is unlikely to have had a huge impact on cinema-going here, since it is a relatively affordable form of entertainment.

For instance, standard 2D film ticket prices at Golden Village cinemas cost between $8.50 and $9.50 from Mondays to Thursdays, and $13 on Fridays, weekends and public holidays.

They added that Netflix was unlikely to have contributed to the dip, since people tend to watch television dramas and original serials on the online streaming service, rather than current movies, which are typically screened in cinemas first.

Many people here also treat visiting the cinema as a social event.

Said a Golden Village spokesman: “The attraction of the cinema experience is rather different (from platforms such as Netflix). A visit to the cinema is very much a social activity, one that is enjoyed as part of a family gathering, friends’ catch-up or dates, which is usually combined with a meal before or after.”

Cinema operators are trying to raise their game to get people to continue watching movies on the big screen.

WE Cinemas has been trying to improve its services in several ways, such as by introducing 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.

Meanwhile, Golden Village has made ticket purchases more convenient through its iGV app, and e-tickets delivered to mobile phones. It has also introduced automated ticketing machines, and increased its offering of Indian films, Japanese anime and live concert screenings.

Both operators are also selling merchandise to appeal to movie buffs. WE Cinemas offers limited-edition movie gift cards, while Golden Village sells movie premiums and merchandise on its website.

For film junkie Benjamin Tey, 29, who works in the education industry, the silver screen has yet to lose its magic.

He goes to the movies with his partner about twice a month, catching all the films he wants to watch on the big screen first.

The fan of superhero movies said: “It’s not just about watching the films themselves. It’s the traditional movie experience, watching a movie with your loved one, and going for a meal afterwards... It’s a date night.”