CineAsia Finds its own Voice

Asia-Pacific is powering cinema growth — and the region’s key market is brimming with confidence, as Patrick von Sychowski discovered at CineAsia 2017


CineAsia might be a comparatively small cinema trade show for such a large region, but 2017 was the year that it truly embraced its Chinese home. The show at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre in December launched a day earlier than usual with a special “Focus on China” held almost entirely in Mandarin (with English translation), which included a keynote by Dr. Man-Nang Chong, chairman and CEO of presenting sponsor GDC Technology, entitled “How Technology is Changing the Cinema Landscape.” This was followed by presentations on the Chinese cinema marketplace, new local cinema technology (CGS+THX) and trends within China such as luxury cinema — a subject reported on in the previous issue of Cinema Technology.

The show launched formally the following day with the first outing by the Motion Picture Association’s new Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin stressing “the bright future of cinema” and emphasising the symbiotic relationship between studios and global cinemas. It was a timely message given the launch of the Global Cinema Federation, which convened at CineAsia, the return of growth at the Chinese box office in 2017 (up 13.45% in local terms but up 30% in dollar terms) and the continued development of Asia as the world’s largest cinema market. “When it comes to constructing premier cinemas and creating memorable experiences, you [Asia-Pac] are setting the pace,” MPAA’s Rivkin acknowledged.


The engine that powers growth

In a widely admired keynote, 20th Century Fox’s Kurt Reider (hopefully kept on once merged with Disney) emphasized that that Asia-Pac is still the engine that powers global cinema growth, with 38.6% global market share, compared to Europe’s 24.6% and North America’s 29.5%. Expertly led as always by Dolby’s Ioan Allen, the ICTA panel that followed covered a range of topics including data, viral marketing and Millennials wanting to feel they discover films organically. The consumer panel discussion after this had a GenZ:er, Millennial and GenX:er on stage discussing what attracts them or keeps them from going to cinema — a novel conference concept.

The show enjoyed support from all the Hollywood studios, showing product reels and films such as Coco, Downsizing and The Greatest Showman. Also showing their films were regional players such as Edko Films (Hong Kong) and Lotte Cinemas (Korea), as well as Unifrance and StudioCanal (France). Disney’s acquisition of Fox was a major talking point amongst the attendees, as was the announcement that Saudi Arabia is now finally allowing cinemas to open, with AMC, Vue, Gulf-based and Indian exhibitors all now lining up to cater to a market that some believe could grow to as many as 3,000 screens.

But China was the biggest focus, with audio-visual regulator SAPPRFT data showing the world’s largest cinema market expanding, with the number of screens growing by 23% from 41,179 in 2016 to 50,776 by the end of 2017. After box office growth of just 3.7% in the previous year, Chinese, Hollywood and Bollywood films all helped saw growth return to the Mainland box office (see side panels opposite and overleaf), even as it shrank for the second year running in Hong Kong itself. With China’s film import quota set to be re-negotiated in 2018 and several much anticipated releases both from China (The Mermaid 2) and Hollywood (Jurassic World, Solo, etc.) there was optimism about the outlook for next year.

Meanwhile, there was the usual CineAsia University on the tradeshow floor, though while the conference presentations had been first rate, here the topics didn’t feel quite as fresh as the nearby popcorn being made by Cretor’s. Time for a rethink on presentations about POS technology, concessions marketing, collectibles and Coca-Cola’s beverage strategies for growth? Too many of the presentations came across as simply going through the motions.

On the floor, behind the door

The trade show was dominated by the usual projector companies, with seating being the other big category. There were more Chinese companies than ever in everything from bulbs and carpets to PLF solutions and TMS software. Several large companies that always have booths at CinemaCon and CineEurope were notable in their absence from the trade show floor (no names to spare blushes).

CineAsia is a show where, more than any other, key meetings take place in hotel and meeting rooms, as well as coffee shops, with many people never taking the escalators to the theatre presentation and trade show floors. One of the new developments of the show was GDC Technology’s Cinema Automation 2.0 concept, promoted by CEO Dr. Chong with a passion that went beyond simply selling a TMS Server solution that streams films straight to the projector without the need for local IMS storage. Dr. Chong sees it as a possibility to re-think completely how and what films get shown in cinemas, with an on-demand capability enabling audiences to choose new or old films to watch as easily as they would order a meal to be delivered home by Uber Eats. This point was driven home in an impressive live simulation at GDC’s booth of ‘The Future of Cinema Automation Technology’.

Envious multiplex growth

Asia is unique in that not only is it growing strongly — beyond China there is significant expansion in Indonesia, India, Vietnam and now also Saudi Arabia — but that it is building spectacular multiplexes that have never seen a 35mm projector and for whom luxury and recliners come as standard. But what can the rest of the world learn from the region, rather than simply looking on from afar with envy?

At the closing reception, Barco was saluted as “Technology Innovator of the Year” and Wim Buyens was in town, not just to accept the award, but also to put finishing touches to the joint-venture partnership with China Film Group, Appotronics and CITIC that aims to fund and enable the next stage roll out of new digital cinema equipment globally. With no new VPF coming from Hollywood and consolidation setting in (Cineworld’s acquisition of Regal came just after the show), in the face of the challenge from online streaming, the industry in Asia is looking to the future with hope and trepidation. These sentiments were shared by colleagues from Europe, who were more numerous than ever before this year. The 2017 show might have had a strong Chinese flavour, but like CinemaCon and CineEurope it is increasingly also a global show.