Cinematic success with social responsibility

September 09, 2018 - 09:00

Bùi Quang Minh, an MBA from Harvard Business School, builds a low-cost cinema chain, which targets everybody including low-income people, students and residents in disadvantaged regions, in order to spread film culture, especially in rural provinces and suburban areas.

Box office: Customers queue up to purchase cinema tickets at Beta Cineplex. Photos courtesy of Beta Cineplex
Viet Nam News

by Phương Thảo

National pride and success have become synonymous with the song “Việt Nam ơi” written in 2011 to cheer on the Vietnamese contingent at the 26th Southeast Asian Games. However, not many people know that the song’s writer is also a successful startup founder in the cinema industry, whose life has been driven by inspiration.

“While most enterprises consider profit their highest priority, I focus on the impacts of my work on the community,” said Bùi Quang Minh, founder and CEO of the Beta Media Joint Stock Company.

Returning to Việt Nam with an MBA from Harvard Business School, Minh decided to start a business in his own country and make a difference to society.

At that time, he found out that the number of cinemas per capita in Việt Nam was still very low compared to the region; moreover, modern cinemas only focused on the high-end segment with relatively high ticket prices compared to the income of the majority of Vietnamese people.

This fact inspired Minh to build a low-cost cinema chain, which targets everybody including low-income people, students and residents in disadvantaged regions, in order to spread film culture, especially in rural provinces and suburban areas. 

In 2015, the first Beta Cineplex was launched in Thái Nguyên City with three screens and a food court. Explaining why he chose Thái Nguyên, Minh said there were not any modern cinemas in the northern province at that time, and the region had a lot of potential with plenty of college students.

“Before the Beta Cineplex opened, residents in Thái Nguyên City just stayed at home after dinner, or sometimes went out for a beer. Now the city has a cinema, people have a place to relax and to enjoy movies. It is also a way for the community to experience the entertainment culture,” Minh told Việt Nam News.

Thái Nguyên already has a State-owned cinema but it cannot meet local demand because it is in poor conditions and there are no new movies.

According to movies managers, most State-owned cinemas in Việt Nam are dependent on the film source from the Vietnamese supplier Investment Joint Stock Company Film VINA (Vinacinema), but the films are too old to attract audiences. Even if they had new movies, the old theatres themselves are not eligible to screen them because the new movies nowadays are encrypted to protect the copyright, and the projection systems are out of date.

“State-owned cinemas do not receive enough investment. More than half of the State-run cinemas in Việt Nam have been merged into municipal culture centres,” Nguyễn Văn Nhiêm, chairman of the Việt Nam Association of Films Distribution and member of the Việt Nam Cinema Association, told Việt Nam News.

After three months of operation, Beta Media decided to accept US$3.5 million in investment from Việt Nam Investments Group (VIG) - the main investor of Galaxy Cinemas, Galaxy Studios and numerous food brands – for a 35 per cent stake in the company. Thanks to the deal, Beta Media was valued at $10 million less than a year since it launched, from only VNĐ10 billion ($429,000) of its initial investment capital.

With regards to the impacts of Beta Cineplex in Thái Nguyên, Phạm Thái Hanh, director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said it was the first private cinema to have a standard movie theatre system in Thái Nguyên, and had helped meet the demand of local audiences, especially students and young workers from industrial parks.

“Local and foreign blockbusters have introduced and promoted Vietnamese and global culture and society, raising awareness of true values and making movies an indispensable part of modern life,” Hanh told Việt Nam News.

Following the success of Beta Thái Nguyên, Beta Media continued to build and open three more cinemas -- one in Biên Hòa City in the southern province of Đồng Nai and two in Mỹ Đình and Thanh Xuân districts in Hà Nội. Ticket prices are 60 to 65 per cent lower than high-end cinemas in major cities.

“By developing cinema theatres in smaller provinces, the company can avoid the fierce competition with large firms,” said Beta Media’s founder.

In 2017, Beta Media JSC signed an investment agreement with Hong Kong financial group Blue HK Investments Ltd to build low-cost theatres in smaller cities and provinces in Việt Nam, raising its value to $30 million.

Under the agreement, Beta Media launched six more multiplexes in the central province of Thanh Hóa, the northern province of Bắc Giang, the central city of Nha Trang, the southern province of Long Xuyên, Hà Nội, and HCM City, expanding its outlets to 10.

Fast food: Youngsters enjoy snacks and drinks at the Foodfair corner inside Beta Cineplex.

The other big theatres like CGV, Galaxy Cinema, Platinum, Lotte Cinema and BHD are present in big cities and provinces including Hà Nội, HCM City, Đà Nẵng, Đồng Nai, and Cần Thơ. 

"These cinema complexes are aimed at audiences in big cities who are able to pay more for tickets. But enjoying the hottest, latest blockbusters is not a demand confined to city dwellers," Minh said. His company’s business strategy aims at screening movies and providing others services such as catering and shopping.

"The cinema is stunning and ticket prices are reasonable," said Thùy Linh, a college student in Hà Nội, after enjoying a fun evening with friends at the Beta Cineplex Mỹ Đình.

She is among many young people who’ve become movie buffs thanks to the low-cost theatres that target small cities and suburban areas.

"With the Beta Cineplex, we have more opportunities to watch movies at the weekend because ticket prices are just VNĐ45,000 (about $2). My friends and I used to go to the cinema in the morning because the ticket prices were cheaper," Linh said.

Beta Media has also entered into film production and distribution: It has distributed 17 foreign movies to other cinemas and produced four films, including Ngày Mai Mai Cưới (Get Married) and Tìm Vợ Cho Bà (Bride for Rent)).

Beta Media’s CEO Minh has also starred as the lead actor in two movies to learn and gain experience instead of supervising as a manager.

In parallel with its business activities, Beta Media is also active in community projects and co-operates with social organisations such as the Civilian Fellowship for International Exchange (CFIE) from South Korea, Operation Smile, and Volunteers For Peace Vietnam (VPV).

Beta Media sponsored the music charity night "Bring Water to Khem Village" by the end of 2014,. This was part of the “Đông ấm tình thương” (Affection for Children in Winter) a charity project organised by the VPV to bring joy to children in upland, remote areas of Hòa Bình Province and provide them with better conditions to study.

This year, Beta Media organised a music night for kids with cancer at the Ha Noi National Children’s Hospital and raised more than VNĐ100 million together with gifts for the children.

Live a meaningful life

According to Minh’s motto, his business story always runs in parallel with community values. For example, the idea of constructing low-cost cinemas has created two values for his business: profit opportunities as well as spreading cultural values.  

 “When I wrote the song Việt Nam ơi, I was just thinking about doing something positive for the community. The song is still making me a profit; that is the double benefit that my work often offers me,” Minh said.

“My life is often led by inspiration. Money is one of those inspirations and a powerful source for me to operate the business, but it is not the only thing that I want to achieve. Living a meaningful life with a positive impact on the community is the ideal of my life.” VNS