Thai audiences are in a grumpy mood

Columns

Bitch, bitch, bitch! With election season in full swing here in Thailand, consumers are up in arms over the littlest things. Now it is popcorn, ads in movie theatres, and the cost of movie tickets.

According to Tuchai Wongkitrungreung of the Thai Movie Audience Network, cinema-going is becoming a luxury experience and it shouldn’t be. The Network is a loose body of movie fans that monitors various cinema-related issues, from censorship to consumer complaints.

Ever since Major Cineplex, Thailand’s largest cinema chain, raised its ticket prices by 20 baht (66 U.S. cents), groups of consumers have vented their resentment online, complaining not only about the pricing but about what they perceive to be overlong product commercials prior to each screening.

Now, mind you, even with the increase in ticket price, regular-price tickets still only cost the equivalent of between $5.33 and $6. Digital and 3D movies cost between $8.67 and $9.33, cheap by most developed country standards. And note, Thailand has around 800 cinema screens in some of the most modern multiplexes in the world.

So why the griping?

The Thai Movie Audience Network lodged a complaint with the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB), and the OCPB was deluged with phone calls (fitting for this monsoon season when we are deluged with rain every day). OCPB is now investigating.
Major and SF Cinema City, Major’s rival in the exhibition market, claim prices need to increase because of costs associated with advanced technology including digital projection and 3D.

Major Cineplex reported that last year it sold around 25 million tickets. The overall value of tickets sold by the two main chains was around three billion baht (US$100 million). Major announced a 70% share, which leaves SF with around 30%. This year, the overall market is reported to have grown around 10% in the first quarter, even without the impact of a major Hollywood blockbuster.

Vicha Poolvaraluck, chairman of Major Cineplex Group Plc, believes that the quality of Major’s cinemas more than justifies prices charged, with the marketing department constantly coming up with ways to make “going to the movies” affordable.

''Before, movie theatres charged one flat rate,'' Poolvaraluck says. ''But we introduced a multi-tier pricing system to provide flexibility and choices to consumers with the aim of catering to different target groups. We introduced Movie Day on Wednesdays where prices drop to as low as 60 baht ($2) at certain theatres, while we also introduced a student price—all to give consumers alternatives.''

Compared to other countries, our ticket prices are still low,'' Poolvaraluck contends. ''I also believe that the quality of our cinemas is second to none. At the end, what's expensive or not depends on how you feel about the quality and the services.''

Suwat Thongrompo, CEO of SF Cinema City, shares the belief that multi-tier pricing has given consumers choices. He emphasizes that SF always puts the consumers first and that SF tries to hold prices down. ''If we want to raise the price, we inform the customers in advance,'' he says.

''Our cinemas are shouldering high costs,” Thongrompo continues. “Actually, the ticket prices have to go higher for us to absorb the costs, but we look at the supply and demand and we do our best not to push the burden to the consumers. Cinemas in Hong Kong charge a little over US$13. In the U.S., it’s $12 to $13. In Japan, it is over $20”

In the meantime, Wongkitrungreung of the Thai Movie Audience Network comments, “People think they are paying a high price for their entertainment, then the price goes up without them being informed first, then they go inside the cinema and have to watch 30 minutes of trailers and commercials. Operators also claim that they've improved the condition of the cinemas, but if you go to the ones in the suburbs, you can see it's not really true.

''Cinemas may think they're doing business with young people, who are usually less careful about how they spend. But they're losing the adult group, say those over 40, because these people have to think a lot before spending.''

''The fact that most movie theatres are in shopping malls is one of the big problems,'' Wongkitrungreung continues. ''Naturally, ticket prices have to go up because of the rent: I understand the theatres on this point. But it shows how much our lives are tied with shopping malls, and how we have no choice but to pay whatever prices the multiplexes ask. We'll have to keep making complaints. That's what we all have to do.''

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @scott_cos or on Facebook: D Scott Rosenberg.