Singapore’s Filmgarde to Close Indie Cinemas, Blames Changing Film Market

Filmgarde, an independent cinema exhibitor in Singapore, is to close two of its three cinema complexes. The company pointed to “changing trends in the film industry.”

The company will allow its leases to lapse at Bugis Plus and at Century Square within the first quarter of 2022, entailing the closure of 14 screens.

It also operates a third six-screen complex within leased premises at Leisure Park Kallang. Filmgarde company director Han Minli told Variety that Kallang would eventually cease to be a traditional movie house, but said that details of its future transformation are not yet ready to be disclosed.

“Since 2013, Singapore’s overall cinema attendance has been on a general decline. This is in spite of an increase in the number of screens and seating capacity during the same period. In fact, from 2017 to 2019, national cinema attendance had already fallen to pre-2010 levels1. The onset of Covid-19 only served to accelerate and exacerbate these existing trends,” said Sherman Ong, Filmgarde’s head of cinema operations.

Han said that Filmgarde, which also operates property and food and beverage businesses, “will remain vested in the film community.” A company statement said that “all staff in the two cinemas [..] will be redeployed across other divisions.”

“The film industry, like many others, has undergone tremendous changes in this era of digitalization. The surge in online streaming platforms has fundamentally altered global content production and distribution models as well as audience behavior and media consumption patterns. This has had an impact on cinemas all over the world, including Singapore cinemas which have traditionally been reliant on Hollywood and other overseas contents,” said the company statement. “With the expiry of our leases, it is timely for us to shift our investments to focus on developing new areas of growth within the media industry and to expand our presence in other sectors, so as to keep pace with market demands.”

Data from the Infocomm Media Development Authority and Singapore Film Commission show that cinema admissions in the city-state reached their peak in 2011 (22.1 million tickets sold) when there was a total of 180 cinema screens and 35,000 available seats. Annual attendance had slipped to 18.5 million by pre-COVID 2019, but the screen count had ballooned to 281 and seating capacity increased to 42,000.

Admissions then collapsed to just 4.7 million and nationwide gross box office tumbled to S$49.6 million ($36.6 million) in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus on cinema operations and the reduced number of Hollywood movie releases.

Final figures for 2021 are not yet available, but preliminary indications point to an increase in admissions that was largely fueled by a December surge. In its first two weeks of release, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed S$11.8 million ($8.70 million) in Singapore.

“Per capita attendance used to be very high, but it has been in steady decline over the past ten years, with significant drops in 2016 and 2017,” said Han. She explained that, with Singapore’s expensive labor and property costs, cinemas in the country have high operating costs and little space for large lobbies that are attractive to patrons or offer room for many other revenue-generating activities.

The Singapore cinema sector last week offered up another sign of weakness when a private investor walked away from a S$84.8 million ($62.5 million) deal to buy a controlling stake in Cathay Cineplexes, Singapore’s third largest chain, which is currently owned by mini-conglomerate mm2 Asia. “Omicron uncertainty has dampened investing appetite for the moment,” said investor Kingsmead Properties.

Regulatory filings revealed that mm2’s cinemas lost S$66.8 million ($49.3 million) in the financial year to March 2021 – a figure higher than the country’s 2020 gross box office aggregate.

Mm2 Asia bought Cathay Cineplexes in 2017 after first agreeing – and then being rebuffed – in a proposed takeover of Golden Village, the country’s largest cinema circuit. Australia’s Village Roadshow Limited instead sold its half of Golden Village to Hong Kong-based group Orange Sky Golden Harvest.

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