Has Covid killed cinemas in Singapore as we know them?

  • With the rise of streaming services and the constant changes in safety measures during the global pandemic, is it time to say goodbye to our going to the cinemas?
  • Student, Emma Wong, examines the factors changing the local cinema landscape.
(Photo source: Unsplash)
(Photo source: Unsplash)

When was the last time you managed to catch a blockbuster at the cinema after the Covid-19 circuit breaker ended in May 2020? If your answer is “never”, then you are not alone.

The pandemic has had a substantial impact on the film industry in 2020 and 2021 and across the world to varying degrees, cinemas have been forced to close as they operate below profitable conditions, and film releases moved to a future date or delayed indefinitely. Most recently, Filmgarde Cineplexes announced that two of its three cinemas would be shutting down. 

Despite sales to local investment firm Kingsmead Properties falling through, Cathay Cineplexes is still continuing to offer its services. This comes at a time where box office takings have dropped drastically, negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), cinema attendance rate hit its lowest at 4.73million in 2020. This was due to the waves of Covid-19 infections which resulted in temporary cinema closures and social distancing protocols implemented.

The big bad

As if the virus is not bad enough, forcing many indoors, another type of “infection” is also slowly killing off the movie theatres —streaming. In the comforts of our own homes, we now have access to a wide variety of content provided by streaming services. This has allowed us to watch the latest movies snuggled under our bed covers. 

Streaming services such as HBO GO Asia, MeWatch, Netflix, just to name a few, have seen steady increases in their user visits. According to Statista, a German company specialising in market and consumer data, the average number of subscription to video on demand (SVoD) subscriptions per person increased from 0.7 to 1.1 between 2018 and 2020 in Singapore. Over-the-top (OTT) video services, which include the popular SVoD platforms Netflix, Disney+, and Viu, are now the leading service platforms for viewing video content in the country.

This has spurred many organisations to push out more content through these streaming services. For example, Chinese blockbuster Lost in Russia canceled its box office release on 22 January 2020 and was sent to streaming platforms, making it available to watch for free. This was a move to encourage people to watch it and stay home. 

Asian movie markets also saw Chinese and Hong Kong film distributors cancel exports over the Chinese New Year holiday that year. The Chinese New Year period was previously a large market for film releases across the region but it was stunted in 2020 when the virus was spreading rapidly during that time.

The James Bond film No Time to Die, which was scheduled to premiere in March 2020 and wide release in April 2020, was postponed to November and then again to April 2021. No Time to Die was the first film to change its planned release outside of China because of the early outbreak of Covid-19, opening discussions of dramatic implications on the film economy. Its new November date is in the busy holiday release period, leading to low box office intake in the March/April period and uncertain intake in November.

Other houses followed suit. Marvel Studios opted to release ‘Black Widow’ both through cinemas as well as on Disney+. 

Many of these streaming services also offer their own variety of shows, such as Netflix’s ‘Netflix Originals’, encouraging more users to subscribe to their platforms to access content unique to their sites. Other services like Viu, with an offering of many Asian programmes, also provide content in almost real-time after being aired on cable networks in countries such as South Korea. 

These streaming services could potentially eclipse cinemas as they offer a vast array of films and programmes, allowing one to have an endless list of content to consume. At the same time, these streaming services provide users with something that cinemas could not —  convenience. Having the ability to watch shows anytime, anywhere has been a major success factor in enticing many to utilise such services.

Local love for the cinemas

Before the Covid pandemic hit, many Singaporeans frequented local cinemas. According to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), from 2011 to 2019, many visited the cinemas each year to catch the weekly releases of new movies at the box office, with 22.1 million visitors being the highest recorded in the past decade. 

With the recent easing of safe management measures, Singaporeans can return to a somewhat normal cinematic experience by fixing a day with friends to head down and munch on some popcorn while watching favourite shows on the big screen. 

(Photo source: Cinema Online)

Unique local experiences at the cinemas

Moving away from your typical movie theatre, local cinemas are now offering unique experiences to survive the pandemic and to bring back the fans.

The Projector that promises patrons a one-of-a-kind indie cinema experience has an extraordinary interior that brings you back to the good old days. At The Projector, apart from the screenings of popular international movies, there are also several indie films to choose from. 

With the pandemic, The Projector now also has its own collection of “Watch At Home” movies for rent through its website.

Carnival Cinemas, on the other hand,  takes its patrons on an immersive trip to India. While watching Bollywood and Regional blockbusters, patrons can also indulge in snacking on delicious food from different regions across India.

Hoping for the best

While it may be too early to say, we doubt that the local cinema scene is likely to meet its demise anytime soon. 

(Photo source: Wikipedia)

The next time you set up a watch party with friends, we encourage you to go to your local cinemas instead,  not only to reminisce on the good times but also to keep these cinemas alive. 

This piece is a user contribution by Emma Wong, an aspiring lawyer who is currently awaiting entry into university. TheHomeGround Asia’s user-generated content is a community engagement initiative to lend a voice and platform for people within the community to share their stories and ideas that represent the sentiments and views of ordinary people. We aim to connect people by providing unique insights and points of view from the community, giving readers the opportunity to see things from a local perspective.

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