Region cites many factors in B.O. surge

HONG KONG — China remains the prize for the Asian movie biz, but increasingly there are opportunities in other vibrant markets on the continent as regulatory hurdles fall and audience sophistication rises, delegates told the Cine-Asia confab in Hong Kong.

The presentations by regional single-theater operators at the confab, which ran Dec. 6-8, highlighted the diversity within Asia, but also underlined how Southeast Asia in particular offers myriad possibilities for overseas investors.

“These are terrific growth countries and are great for us at the studios,” said Motion Picture Assn. Asia Pacific president and managing director Mike Ellis. “We are seeing 15% growth in Malaysia, 25% growth in the Philippines and 74% growth in Vietnam.”

Rance Pow, CEO of the Artisan Gateway consultancy, told of how the region was picking up generally.

“Taiwan is the standout story this year. While we cannot tear our eyes away from China, there are many stories in the region that excite,”

said Pow.

Edgar Tejerero, senior veep at the Philippines chain SM Cinema, said the industry in his country had been boosted by stricter piracy laws and by cutting the amusement tax from 30% to 10% in 2010.

The coming influx of digital screens also figures to bring increases.

“We chose to convert all our screens to digital,” Tejerero said. “It gives us bigger box office, more usage for cinemas and screens — pay per view, sports and entertainment, educational content such as film literacy program. And we hope we can encourage local movie industries to produce more.”

In 2011, Philippines B.O. registered 48 million admissions at an average $3.23 per ticket, with box office totaling $153 million from 693 screens.

“More than half of B.O. is in Metro Manila rather than non-key cities. This is an opportunity,” said Tejerero, who expects a big jump in digital projection in 2012, when the country will have 720 screens.

Malaysia has to contend with a strict regulatory environment, and a tax of 25% on exhibitors, combined with strict censorship.

“We are being squeezed from quite a number of places,” said Kenny Wong, CEO of TGV Cinemas in Malaysia, who nevertheless predicts growth in 2012, citing technological advances and the country’s very young moviegoing population.

And it was a good time for local filmmakers in Malaysia — there were 76 local productions last year; 90 were expected this year.

Wong said the Malay biz will add value via 3D and giantscreen. “We try to enhance attractiveness to increase share of the customer’s wallet.” he said.

Brian Hall, CEO and prexy of Megastar Cinemas in Vietnam, painted a picture of a burgeoning market.

In 2011, B.O. was $35 million, up from $23.7 million in 2010. There are 184 screens in Vietnam, but the projected number of screens in 2016 is 350, while projected B.O. in 2016 is $110 million. Megastar operates 69 screens in Vietnam.

There are challenges to this growth, however — notably real estate costs. Rent per square foot in Hanoi and Saigon is more expensive than a host of cities, including Madrid, Philadelphia and San Diego.

But the overall picture remains upbeat.

“Vietnam has spent 80 years becoming a country. Now they have established themselves and they say they want what everyone else has,” Hall said.

Hall said box office is small, but has grown dramatically in the past few year, driven by Hollywood blockbusters.

“Seventy-five percent of box office is Hollywood (fare),” said Hall, who notes that one challenge is to grow the local production industry by instituting screen quotas.

“But the simple fact is there are not enough(local) films to fill that time,” he said.

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