The local cinema industry is hoping that this year’s blockbuster summer will turn around its fortunes.
Last month, cinema tickets joined the long list of items that have increased in price for customers this year.
On Thursday, May 11, MovieTowne announced it would be increasing its ticket prices by $10 from Thursday, May 18.
In a social media post announcing the increase, MovieTowne said, “We know this isn’t the news you wanted to hear, but we are committed to providing you with the best movie-going experience possible. Thanks for your understanding and we hope to see you soon!”
When the Business Guardian contacted Derek Chin, the owner of MovieTowne, concerning the price increase, he said the decision was a result of increased economic pressure as well as the fact that cinema crowds were still yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“Well, it just has come down to economics. Everything post-COVID has gone up in price. Cost of security, cost of maintenance, cost of chemicals and we basically tried to absorb as much as we can. That’s why the last price increase was about ten years ago. But also the numbers are not the same as it was before (the pandemic) and our dollars and cents are affected. And as a result, we have to make an increase in our prices,” Chin said.
He confirmed that the ticket increase would be applied across the board at all of the company’s cinemas across Trinidad and Tobago, news that meant those hoping to keep their dates under $200 may find it a little more difficult to achieve such an option via a movie date.
One MovieTowne competitor CinemaOne confirmed that movie crowds were still some way off from the numbers seen before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CinemaOne CEO Ingrid Jahra told Sunday Business that while her company was seeing an increase in market share in the local cinema landscape, crowds were down significantly compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We always forecast and hope for better. But when we look at the landscape we are holding our own in terms of market share, we actually see our market share increasing.
“We hope that for the rest of May and June and July, with some big movies coming down, we will see improved audiences in terms of numbers. So, I mean, if you’re still looking at pre-COVID, the numbers are still off by probably about 35 per cent,” said Jahra.
The local cinema industry, as well as the theatres around the world, had suffered significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cinemas in T&T were closed for 211 days in 2020, and after re-opening late in that year, were shut down again following the announcement of a state of emergency in May 2021.
Cinemas were allowed to operate as safe zones in October 2021, but restrictions meant crowds were by default far lower than traditional audiences at the big screen.
Even after the removal of safe zone regulations and restrictions, crowds have largely not returned to the theatres and the financial impact has begun to tell.
Less than a week after MovieTowne announced its price increase, CinemaOne’s financial performance for the first half of the fiscal year 2023 was released.
It revealed that the cinema chain had seen improvements over fiscal year 2022, which was hardly surprising given that movie theatres were under restrictions for some time during that period.
However, the company still recorded a net loss of $200,000 despite the improving returns. The company notably has been reporting losses since 2020.
In the financial report, CinemaOne chairman Brian Jahra noted that global cinema trends could lead to further economic returns for the cinema chain.
“Greater film volume, coupled with the recent reaffirmation from all major studios of the value of wide theatrical releases on 2,000 or more screens and, most importantly, coupled with movie theatre exclusivity periods, augurs well for the sustained recovery of the cinema exhibition industry.”
He continued, “CinemaOne maintains a positive outlook for the global cinema exhibition industry based on both the empirical results from the industry’s continued rebound and the company’s recent financial performance. Moviegoers have been delighted by nostalgic franchises delivered in a larger-than-life cinematic setting such as the April release of Super Mario Brothers which is the first movie of 2023 to surpass US$1 billion in box office receipts.”
The Super Mario movie has indeed surpassed Frozen as the second highest-grossing animated movie of all time.
The return of a slew of major movie releases over the next few months is being seen as the tonic needed for the reeling industry.
Chin said he hoped the cinema industry would enjoy a boost with upcoming summer blockbusters, and pointed to franchises such as the Fast and Furious and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts coming soon.
Ingrid Jahra also noted that major movie franchises did hold major promise and she recognised that recent major hits had been positive drivers for her company with crowds coming out in numbers for major releases.
“It really depends on the movie. So you know, like John Wick 4 was really outstanding for us,” said Jahra, “We hope that (crowds will come) with the new franchises, the kind of reboot of the new franchises of Transformers, Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones.”
“I share Derek’s sentiment that it’s not where it was. But then, as I said, it depends on the movie because in some months we see in late January, we saw similar December were very good. But you’re only as good as your last good movie. That’s the business that we are in,” she said.
Jahra also stated the company was working steadfastly to get CineCentral, which is set to occupy the spot vacated by Movietowne Chaguanas at Price Plaza, operationalised in time to capitalise on these releases.
CinemaOne’s financial report confirmed that the company had to execute a successful equity rights issue to reduce debt and its debt-to-capitalisation ratio to allow the company to explore such expansion opportunities.
However, Jahra said the investment was worth it as the company had already seen promising returns from its Gemstone Theatres at Gulf City, while she also acknowledged there have been regular inquiries as to when the Chaguanas cineplex will open.
“The audience is waiting on us, every day we are asked when are you opening? We realise that people are waiting patiently so they don’t have to drive very far. Like how they have to now because their choice would be South or Port-of-Spain,” she said.