How Does Cinema Chain Golden Village Stay Relevant In The Age Of Streaming? CEO Clara Cheo Reveals More
I’m wielding a light sabre in each hand. As colourful glowing objects fly at me at increasing speed, I slice at them gleefully with my powerful weapons, sending the remnants flying into the endless black abyss of outer space. It’s just another day at work—strapping on a headset to get a taste of immersive virtual reality (VR) games is what happens when you show up at the new Funan mall to interview Golden Village (GV) CEO Clara Cheo.
The mall is home to the cinema chain’s latest cineplex, which boasts four pods in its foyer where customers can sample various 15min VR experiences. That’s just one way GV is raising its game at this new location, which also features Deluxe Plus halls where spacious reclining leatherette seats come with USB charging ports, as well as a Gold Class Express hall. Audience members who book seats in the latter can use the revamped iGV app to pre‑order food and drinks, which will then be served to them in the auditorium.
“Funan is in the central business district, and we want to provide a place where people can enjoy themselves after work,” Cheo explains. “They can chill at our cafe and play a game in the VR pod before catching a movie. We’re trying to be an all-round entertainment and lifestyle location.”
Owned by Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment, a Hong Kong film production, exhibition and distribution company, GV has been known for its innovation since it entered Singapore in 1992. To keep the cinema experience appealing, it’s introduced automated ticket machines, QR code tickets, off-peak ticket pricing, and cutting‑edge laser projection and audio technology systems over the years, and its 22.4m wide screen in GV VivoCity is one of Asia’s largest movie screens.
Keeping up with the times has worked in its favour. Even with the growing popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, the numbers still look healthy for GV. Its Singapore box office totalled $93 million in 2018, a near 40 per cent increase from 10 years ago and higher than the industry average here of about 30 per cent, says Cheo. “I think the audience knows which platforms they prefer for different kinds of movies. It’s like food. Sometimes you eat at home, sometimes you go to a food court or a restaurant.”
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Using this analogy, the cinema hall can be the convenient food court or the luxurious restaurant, depending on the kind of ticket you pay for. Ultimately, Cheo declares: “Nothing can replace the big-screen cinema experience.”
She cites the example of The Wandering Earth, a Chinese interstellar epic that became one of the most commercially successful movies in Chinese box office history when it was released in that country’s cinemas earlier this year. Outside of China, the movie was distributed by Netflix, and Cheo used the streaming service to watch it on her 65inch‑screen TV at home. “I was so disappointed. Even on a big TV screen, I didn’t feel that ‘wow’. Because it’s about the universe, right? You just can’t convey that kind of scale on a TV.”
Indeed, superhero blockbusters that trade in monumental spectacles best enjoyed on massive screens have been instrumental to GV’s box office success in recent years. And Cheo is looking forward to upcoming releases created by directors who are known for being technical visionaries. James Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar, and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi number among her favourite cinema experiences, and these two film-makers have exciting projects in the works.
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Cameron is working on Avatar sequels, while Lee’s recent Gemini Man features groundbreaking digital wizardry that “clones” a younger version of leading man Will Smith. “So I think the audience is in for a treat. These film-makers never fail to delight and surprise,” says Cheo.
Similarly, cinema operators have to keep raising the bar to keep viewers entranced. “We have to constantly bring in different content, different seats, different experiences. I think that will ensure people keep coming back to the cinema.” Having started her career as an accountant, Cheo also has a neat cost-benefit analysis to offer. “Whether a movie is made with $100 million or $1 million, you pay the same price to watch it. So that’s a very good deal for customers.”