by Trung Hieu and My Hanh
Since Dao Mai Anh was a girl, she used to meet her friends at Tre (Youth) cinema in Nguyen Quy Duc Street. "However, the cinema is now closed," the Thanh Xuan District student says sadly.
In recent years, Hanoians have flocked to watch movies at cinemas.
During holidays and vacations, some cinemas seem to always be announcing, "Sorry, no more tickets."
However, many cinemas must struggle to survive. Some have already closed as they could not maintain operations.
Competitive pressure is forcing cinemas, both State-owned and private ones, to offer more movies of better quality and improve their facilities. Those that cannot afford to modernise often shut down.
The country now has about 100 cinemas, including some with modern technology. There are nine in Ha Noi and 19 in HCM City, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
As residents' living standards increase, cultural offerings such as films are also increasing, especially in large cities.
"Revenue from cinemas in Viet Nam in 2005 was US$2 million, but in 2011, this figure reached $30 million, 15 times higher," says Brian Hall, chairman of the management council of Megastar, which ownes Megastar Cineplex cinemas. "Although the ratio of people going to the cinemas is not high compared to the rest of the world, this number is growing fast, indicating that movies are an increasingly popular form of entertainment."
The National Cinema Centre, a State-owned cinema managed by the culture ministry, received 1.2 million visitors in 2011. The ministry expects that this year's figure will increase to 1.4 million.
The establishment of a variety of new cinemas like the Platinum Cineplex and Lotte Cinema in Ha Noi also shows that there is significant demand for film.
But while these venues are opening their doors, others – like the Dong Da, Fansland and Tre (Youth) cinemas – have been forced to close by poor sales.
Like Tre Cinema, Dong Da Cinema in Thai Thinh Street has a very good location in a crowded street. But after the owners failed to attract enough viewers, it turned into a restaurant.
Military Cinema in Ly Nam De Street is only occasionally open and almost never shows new movies.
There are many reasons for these cinemas' failure, such as their reliance on old and degraded infrastructure, narrow spaces, poor service, and a lack of new movies. The cinemas owned and managed by the State are most frequently affected by these problems.
Looking at the success of a number of cinemas, we can see that the most important factor in a cinema's success is investment in infrastructure. By increasing the number of screens, upgrading equipment, furniture and decorations, private modern cinemas like Megastar, Platinum and Lotte attract many viewers, mostly young people, students and intellectuals who have stable incomes.
Recognising this, other cinemas in Ha Noi have begun to rethink their offerings.
After a long period of degradation, August Cinema has been refurbished and is now equipped with new facilities.
The cinema features the largest 3D theatre in Ha Noi with 540 seats and imported 3D glasses worth $50 each.
Another cinema popular among young people is Kim Dong Cinema, which has two 3D rooms with 600 seats and a 4D room worth $30 billion, according to Mai Phuong, deputy director of the Kim Dong Culture Centre.
The National Cinema Centre also plans to build two more screening rooms – bringing the total number to eight – increase its operating hours and completely turn to digital equipment including a stereo surround sound system.
On special occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, International Women's Day and Christmas, these cinemas also decorate their front lobbies according to the holidays. During weekends and holidays, these cinemas are always crowded, and tickets sell out very early.
According to an official of the National Cinema Centre, Nguyen Duc Cuong, if the cinemas want to succeed, they should make audiences a top priority. "We need to study the psychology of viewers and understand their needs to improve the quality of our services.
"A recent survey showed that 16 to 22 year olds accounted for between 55 and 65 per cent of our audiences. Consequently, along with upgrading the cinema, we have to combine movies with many types of services that complement them such as fast food, coffee shops, video games, book stalls and souvenir stalls," he says.
According to many cinema managers, a modern, clean and professional environment would help attract clients.
Thu Ha, an office worker, says: "Many cinemas in Ha Noi are quite modern. I usually go along with my whole family to the cinemas on weekends. Before or after the film show, we walk around shopping or dine in the service area next to the cinema. We all feel comfortable there."
Cinemas from the expensive Megastar to cheaper local venues also offer various promotions to attract more viewers.
In the current difficult economic situation, the appeal of such promotions is obvious.
These promotions include reduced prices at off-peak hours and for students, and free drinks, popcorn and souvenirs.
In Ha Noi today, private cinemas – with much more investment and better management – now have a huge advantage over the cinemas belonging to the State.
However, by implementing the correct growth strategy, all cinemas can improve their services and attract more customers.
It is essential to change both the appearance of the cinemas and the content they offer. Cinemas must also switch to modern technology and improve service quality. Then each cinema can have a place in the mind of the public. — VNS