3d weakens in Asia

HONG KONGAsia’s theatrical cinema market continues to grow at a fast pace. But 3D viewing is slowing across much of the region.

That mixed news message jumped right out of the screen early on the first morning of the CineAsia distribution and exhibition convention in Hong Kong, Tuesday.

“The only negative is the evolution of how consumers view 3D. We had hoped that things were on a straight line,” said Sunder Kimatrai, senior VP Asia Pacific, for 20th Century Fox.

“When 3D is new it performs well across all genres. Family and animated are the first to stagnate, and in some markets such as Australia [market share] has dropped to single digits.”

But the pattern is far from uniform across the vast and diverse Asia-Pacific region. In neighboring New Zealand percentage market share for 3D is significantly higher.

“In some markets like Hong Kong, where 3D is aggressively programmed, meaning we offer the consumers less of a choice, it is very successful,” Kimatrai said.The large and developing markets of India and China also remain relatively buoyant for 3D.

“The slowdown means that 3D screens account for the high teens of market share, instead of 20% plus (where choice is available),” said Irving Chee, GM of Malaysia’s largest exhibitor Golden Screen Cinemas.

Chee also explained 3D animation’s pain. “Animation is a family decision, and because people are consuming as a group they are more price sensitive,” he said.

While 3D might be slowing, the region is far from ex-growth. “We are seeing Asia solidify as the fastest growing market in the world,” said Mark Viane, Paramount’s senior VP, Asia Pacific and Latin America.

Chee said that he and rival exhibitors expect to open up to 150 new screens in Malaysia in 2014 — a record total if achieved.

The execs revealed some of the many dilemmas the sector is facing as it grows: these include balancing the demands of youngsters amid a population which is generally ageing; and maintaining the theatrical experience when consumers increasingly consume film on mobile devices and large home theater screens.

“I want to be a partner throughout the life of the product, in every format,” said Brian Hall, president and CEO of Vietnam’s largest exhibitor, the Korean-owned Megastar Media. “We will continue to invest and to upgrade, but we worry that premium offerings are becoming less rewarding for exhibitors, due to things like the high cost of land in Asia and technology life cycles. That’s why we need a taste of the back end.”

“We get no upcharge for high frame rate movies. But in our core markets there is a discerning niche audience who want to see them,” said Chee. “For ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ we will have twice as many HFR screens as we did for the first ‘Hobbit’ last year.”

Kimatrai described as “scary” the way that younger audiences are deserting theatrical cinema in Japan and said that the industry needs to promote itself better to them.

He also said “we need to green light and distribute the films that bring out older audiences, like ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’.”

Ticket price sensitivity was also a raised as a problem area. “More than half of Asia’s 3 billion population cannot afford more than $1 for a ticket, but they are watching your movies I guarantee. We need to find more ways to extract value.”

“As Asia moves from sustenance to prosperity, we need to create multiple entry points [for populations to access the entertainment industry], said Kimatrai.

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