Magazine article Variety

Region's Screen Savers

Magazine article Variety

Region's Screen Savers

Article excerpt

Golden Screen Cinemas, the group that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, has played an integral role in transforming the Malaysian theatrical business from backwater to vibrant regional leader.

"The late 1990s were a challenging time for the Malaysian film exhibition and the distribution industry as it dealt with the devastating effects of the Asian financial crisis that wreaked havoc with exchange rates, consumer demand, and the real estate industry," said Sunder Kimatrai, executive VP, Asia Pacific, at 21st Century Fox, in December when accepting a second CineAsia prize for GSC, and naming its CEO Koh Mei Lee as exhibitor of the year. "When coupled with the effects of piracy, which dominated the marketplace, it made the jobs of those in the industry in Malaysia challenging indeed. Since then, the Malaysian cinema industry has turned around dramatically and has become a success story that other countries now look to emulate."

GSC was founded in 1987 as Golden Communications Circuit, a joint venture between the Kuok family's conglomerate PPB and Hong Kong's once-powerful Golden Harvest. Initially, it operated a small chain of theaters leased from another great name in Asian cinema: Shaw Bros.

Ten years later, in January 1998, Golden Communications was merged with Cathay Cinemas to become the Golden Screen Cinemas group recognizable today.

A pattern for future development was set shortly after when, in 1999, the group opened its GSC Mid Valley multiplex at the Mid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur. Not only was it Southeast Asia's biggest cineplex, with 18 screens, but it also introduced the gold class auditorium, which offered more amenities, and ushered in GSC's first international screens, dedicated to arthouse, award-winning, and foreign-language films.

While GSC Mid Valley needed a facelift by 2016, those lines of development have been maintained as operations spread out from the capital into smaller cities, and as GSC began expansion elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Overcoming the effects of the Asian financial crisis and squaring up to the piracy problem required a long-term approach to investment and operations - the company has more than 50 staff who are 20-year veterans, and 30 who have been with it the full 30 years while general manager Irving Chee has been with GSC since 1992 - as well as discipline.

That meant making the theatrical cinema experience widely available in Malaysia, and making the premium experience a must for consumers.

While virtually all theaters in Malaysia are now housed in mall developments, GSC these days operates three brands at different segments of the market.

Within Kuala Lumpur's Mid Valley district, The Gardens is a showcase for the group's top-end GSC Signature offerings, comprising two gold-class screens with full butler service, and five premier screens.

The GSC label is the widest spread, found at nearly 30 locations. Its multiplexes address the country's predominantly young audience - some 80% of Malaysian cinemagoers are 15-30 - and at key locations they include the tech upgrades that youthful audiences are willing to pay for: THX, Dolby Atmos, and D-Box motion systems.

As multiplex cinemas have expanded into smaller towns, the company has introduced its strippeddown GSC Lite operations.

Growing theatrical cinema has not always been straightforward in a country where government policies have intruded. Malaysia's compulsory screening regulations gives nearly all local films a right to a theatrical release lasting a minimum of two weeks.

As digital technology pushed down the cost of filmmaking, the number of locally produced films grew. That presented a double problem for exhibitors as low-cost, local movies threatened to crowd out the commercial Hollywood and Asian films that mainstream Malaysian audiences favor. And as exhibitors are obliged to open local films in each complex's largest theaters, it also had an impact on cinema design. …

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