A Carefully Orchestrated Affair: Oh Hee-seong guides marketing at Lotte Cinema

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According to the Korean Film Industry 2016 report published by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), total admissions in 2016 amounted to 217 million, which works out to an average per-capita attendance of 4.2 times per year. Total admissions for Lotte Cinema in 2016 stood at approximately 65 million, with 2017 admissions expected to grow by two to three percent. “There are some highly anticipated Korean films lined up for December, so ticket sales in that month should determine whether we can attain the growth forecast for the year,” explains Oh Hee-seong, Lotte Cinema’s executive managing director of the marketing division.

Ticket sales aside, screen diversification is an important vehicle for Lotte Cinema to drive growth. That means the establishment of an array of specialized screen categories in order to tend to the expectations of all types of movie fans. Currently, the company’s screen brands comprise, for example, Super Plex, which includes SuperPlexG, a screen format that was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest 2D screen in the world in 2014. But there also is Charlotte, a posh and luxurious premium service brand, as well as Super 4D, which enables audiences to fully and dynamically immerse themselves in the cinematic experience using all of their five senses.

But there is more. “Independent booths are installed in CineFamily for a more private movie experience, while couples can enjoy a cozy environment in CineCouple. Meanwhile, Arte is dedicated to diversity films, and CineBiz specializes in business presentations,” Oh elaborates, again hinting at the already mentioned Super S, the world’s first LED screen. (See our sidebar.)

The concessions business is another area on which Oh puts a lot of focus. Most Korean theatres—including those operated by Lotte Cinema—are located in mall complexes or commercial buildings. This means that more often than not there is intense competition for the concession outlets from nearby stores and their alternative products. “But because running a successful concessions business is critical for [any] theatre operation, we are working continuously on developing diverse, trendy offerings that have a competitive edge over these alternatives,” Oh explains. “We are introducing new processes and improving existing ones to respond to customers more quickly, because snack bars [in the concessions areas] need to be able to accommodate a large number of customers in a short period of time.”

Korea has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world and boasts excellent cellphone network coverage nationwide. Lotte Cinema’s mobile customer database is six times larger than the company’s online (PC) customer base, according to Oh. It is therefore not surprising that cellphone-based customer services are very high on the agenda. Cellphone-supported services like “Baro Ticket” and “Baro Popcorn” (see our main article) were introduced against this backdrop, with “Baro Ticket” currently being used by an impressive 70 percent of Lotte Cinema’s mobile customer database. There also is “Baro-Coupon,” a service provided by a Korean IT startup company, through which audience members can receiveelectronic coupons to exchange for services and goods when they react to advertisement prompts they receive on their smartphones during the pre-movie advertising block in theatres. And for the coming year, Lotte Cinema is already preparing to launch a booking service via Kakao Talk, Korea’s largest messenger platform.

But apart from cellphone services, other promotions and affiliate programs likewise are an important marketing tool for Lotte Cinema. “With Korea’s movie exhibition industry entering maturity, competition with other multiplex theatres is intensifying. As such, market players are implementing diverse and differentiated promotion and affiliate programs,” Oh elaborates. Typically, he says, “customers who take advantage of such promotional or affiliate campaigns make up about 30 percent of total audiences, which means they have significant influence on the business.”

For instance, in 2017 Lotte Cinema carried an affiliateprogram under which Korea’s three main cellphone companies provided free movie tickets to their VIP members. Another initiative was the “Super Hero Premiere” promotion under which Lotte Cinema teamed up with the local distributor of Marvel and DC movies, premiering the superhero flicks at its aptly named Super Plex venue. Additionally, the company frequently hosts Asian but also foreign blockbuster premieres including promotional appearances by visiting Hollywood stars such as, most recently, Colin Firth and Taron Egerton (for Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Scarlett Johansson (for Ghost in the Shell).

“It is a huge honor to receive the CineAsia Special Achievement Award after having previously been awarded the 2006 ShoWest Exhibitor of the Year Award and the 2010 CineAsia DLP Cinema Marketing Achievement Award. Personally, I believe this year is especially meaningful, since we are the recipient of three major service-related awards in Korea. Besides from its homeland, Lotte Cinema is currently operating theatres in China and Vietnam as well. In the future, we plan to expand into Indonesia and India to gain more presence in the global market. We are also planning to go beyond exhibition and create film content. For us, this award will be a catalyst to strengthen our efforts in globally promoting not only the system operation and content but also the innovative services and technology of Lotte Cinema so that our extraordinary movie experience can be enjoyed by a wider audience.”—Oh Hee-seong