For the past few months, cinema operators clung grimly to the last thread of survival, especially after ticket sales dropped precipitously even before the MCO started. As the impact of coronavirus intensified, blockbusters vanished from release calendars, leaving cineplexes beleaguered due to subsequent closures.
For most cinema chains in the country, it wasn’t a happy ending.
Forced to shutter during the MCO to avoid any public congregation, entertainment outlets which lacked the financial wherewithal to tide through the many months of uncertainty went under. For Aurum Theatre — GSC’s flagship cinema which redefines moviegoing experience by introducing grander halls, plusher seats, bespoke service and contemporary dining — the ramifications of Covid-19 were even more palpable as the boutique cinema only began operations since November last year.
News of relief finally came on June 22 when the federal government gave its approval for cinema, theatre and even live operators to begin their services from July 1. Such activities may only take place in closed venues and with an attendance limit of 250 people at one time.
While consumers are eager to return to cinemas, most are still wary about health guidelines and non-essential spendings as the local economy is making a rebound at a glacial pace. How will Aurum, which targets a slightly more affluent demographic with ticket prices starting from RM150, attract consumers back to the big screen in this social-distancing era?
“Our revenue has been severely impacted since early this year and during the prolonged MCO since March 18. We have had no income. To date, our revenue has decreased by 70% year on year,” explained Koh Mei Lee, GSC chief executive officer.
“When we launched Aurum in November last year, we do not have year-on-year numbers to comparatively gauge the impact of the pandemic on luxury cinema. However, I believe that during this period of social distancing, Aurum is the cinema of choice in view of its exclusivity and lower seating capacity.”
These days, a night at the movies is less about enduring the snarling queue at the popcorn counter and more about feeling pampered. Taking creative steps to coax adults out of their living rooms, luxury cinemas like Aurum entice with bespoke services and amenities, especially cushier and bigger recliner chairs. The screen might be silver but the seats must be gold.
For extra comfort, Aurum is equipped with exclusively-designed seats by homegrown luxury lifestyle company Getha, plush pillows and a soft fleece blanket. But these perks — what were once touches of luxury — may now be perceived as legitimate safety concerns as they could incubate germs.
“Our SOPs from day one included cleaning measures that were unique to Aurum, and that include removing and changing mattress sheets and pillow covers, replacing blankets, swapping disposable slippers, etc, after every show. We will continue to ensure that this is continued in the new normal, to provide our customers a fresh experience every time they step into the hall for a movie,” Koh assures.
Moviegoers can also expect stringent hygiene measures such as enhanced sanitisation and disinfection of seats; mask-wearing; the availability of hand sanitisers around box office ticketing counters and concessions; temperature checks for employees and guests upon entry, as well as crowd controlling to avoid queueing.
In terms of social-distancing, Aurum will continue to seat its audiences as normal as most halls are already well-spaced.
“The seating arrangement meets the required 1-metre social distancing gap in line with the NSC’s SOPs. However, seating in some halls like our Escape Studios, which feature a closer and cosier seating, will have to be changed to meet the SOPs. Seats will be marked and kept empty for social distancing.”
Although watching a flick is a solo act, the experience of moviegoing has usually been a social activity, where we enjoy it with our friends and loved ones. Now, however, the bigger question we’ll be asking is not who we’re going to the movies with or what we’ll be watching but logistical details of cinematic reopening: Are cinema owners acting responsibly by reopening their doors? Are studios acting responsibly by putting out catchy blockbusters and tentpole instalments to lure customers as summer looms?
Sitting in a room with strangers for at least two hours may seem like a walk on the wild side of public health. But we must admit that the communal experience of visiting the cinemas will not be the same again as we adapt to a new set of moviegoing etiquettes in the middle of a pandemic.
With proper health guidelines, hopefully, cinemas will once again serve its purpose as they did for decades: providing an escape, albeit masked and at a safe distance.
Aurum Theatre will reopen on July 1. See movie listings here soon.