As mature markets in developed countries are experiencing a drop in cinema attendance because of fierce competition for eyeballs from streaming giants, Cambodia’s market is just beginning its growth spurt, leaning into a comfortable stride.
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For the past few years, cinema attendance has experienced a dramatic rise. Around two million tickets are sold yearly with an average year-on-year growth rate of 20 percent, according to Westec Media Ltd.
Westec Media is Cambodia’s first movie distributor and partners with Hollywood production companies Universal Studios Inc, Walt Disney Co, Warner Bros Entertainment Inc, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc and Paramount Corp Bhd.
The millennial generation and Generation Z are spending more money on entertainment than their parents.
“There’s a core crowd (made up of) young teenagers. Cambodia is a very young country. A large segment of moviegoers are young,” says Michael Chai, chief executive officer of Westec Media.
There has been a 50 percent increase of screens since last year. Currently, there are 67 screens in Cambodia, the majority of them in Phnom Penh.
Westec Media expects Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel released earlier this year to break previous box office records. The film has grossed over $900 million in ticket sales worldwide.
In Cambodia, there has been some notable milestones reached in the past couple years at the box office such as Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War that packed in $550,000 in 2018, and The Fate of The Furious which earned $450,000 in 2017.
One of the strategies distribution companies have employed is to keep the film in cinemas for longer periods of time. This gives cinemagoers more time to watch the film.
“A movie like science fiction Alita: Battle Angel would normally stay on the screen for about 20 days but now it will stay for 35, even 40 days. (Previously) programming in the cinemas never catered to busy working people. After work, you have family time (which) leaves you with one or two window opportunities to catch a movie in a week,” says Chai.
Movies are going on longer runs now compared to the past when revenue pressure was high, resulting in cinemas shortening movie screening slots to make way for other movies.
It should also be noted that people’s tastes in films has diversified, evidenced by moviegoers’ appetite to non-Hollywood tent pole releases.
“Back in 2011 and 2012, we focussed mostly on the tent pole international blockbusters, popular Thai films, and of course local productions,” Paul Soldner, Senior Executive Analyst at Westec Media tells Capital Cambodia.
“Now, we have an increasingly diverse market with movies from Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, and France,” he explains.
By far, one of the most attractive genres for the young demography is Asian horror. The audience is also becoming more savvy and attuned with film narratives and less on movie stars or the origin of production.
In fact, Soldner says the Cambodian audience is probably the most international in movie tastes.
“While tent poles are universally popular and horror as a genre is preferred over others, Cambodians are uniquely mature in terms of where the movies are produced. It means that a good movie has a chance to succeed here (notwithstanding) its stars and country of origin,” he adds.
Market research also suggests that the audience is willing to pay extra for premium seating, plush amenities, and new state-of-the-art projection technology.
The interest in premium formats is not to be discounted as VIP halls in Phnom Penh can be expected to provide a premium experience.
“It is for those who enjoy quieter halls and more comfortable seating, and excellent deals on snacks and beverages,” Soldner says.
He adds that 4Dx has been around since the opening of Major Cineplex at Aeon mall and is a key element for ticket sales for international blockbusters.