South Korean Circuit Offers Premium Service

South Korea is without a doubt the most dynamic film entertainment territory in Asia. And when it comes to serving that moviegoing population, few theatre circuits in the world can match the efforts of Lotte Cinema.

Headed by CEO Kim Kwang-Seop, Lotte Cinema was founded in September 1999 as a division of Lotte Shopping Co. Ltd., South Korea’s US$9 billion retail giant. The company’s public-relations people may seem a little wacky, spinning out slogans like “a great company with love, happiness and impression.” But the PR folks at Lotte have been pretty much spot-on, from the first opening in Ilsan City near Seoul in October 1999, to the most recent Koonkuk Starcity 11-screener near Kunkuk University in Seoul, which opened in January 2007.

Fulfilling its commitment to be a “one-stop entertainment center,” the circuit cares for their customers like a family, providing baby seats for children, a free umbrella loan service for sudden changes in the weather, a wheelchair service for the disabled, special screening auditoriums for women viewers who come with their babies, VIP lounges for premier members, and powder rooms for female customers.

After eight years in the business, Lotte Cinema has a total of 330 screens in 43 locations across South Korea. By 2010, Lotte plans to have 600 screens in 75 locations, including 10 locations in downtown Seoul.

The organization also has a strong sense of corporate social responsibility, which is showcased in programs across the circuit. Customers who have “Internal Organ Donation Commitment” certification receive movie discounts. In 2007, a joint program with MBC (Korea’s largest free-to-air public-TV station) began providing screen ads for missing children. Lotte also entered into an agreement with UNICEF to use cinema venues to recruit UNICEF supporters while also providing free screenings for them.

Another first for the circuit is the addition of other entertainment along with their movie screenings, including mini-concerts, musicals, and puppet and doll shows for kids. Lotte now has “Live City” auditoriums in six locations, which present plays for families. They also have a Cine Studio auditorium at their Geondae location in Seoul, which exclusively screens indie movies. Cine Studio is used as a venue for various other events such as seminars, presentations and VIP activities.

The Lotte Group is presently constructing Lotte World 2, a giant amusement park in the heart of Seoul, alongside the original Lotte World. Lotte Cinema plans to build the largest theatre in Asia in this location, with the opening slated for 2010.

Besides moving quickly into the future with advanced ticketing systems, the circuit has already installed Real D 3D cinema projection in 11 of their locations, waiting for the rollout of new software.

And then there is “Charlotte,” Lotte’s premier auditorium. The PR folks did not have to ramp up the image of this gem. Its name comes from the heroine of the Goethe novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. The entire concept aims to emulate service at a luxury hotel: first-class seats, free beverages and wine, and bag check-in service, with dedicated staff posted in the auditorium to serve customers at a moment’s notice. When the auditorium is rented, catering service is available. Charlotte theatres are located in Lotte Cinema Avenuel and the new Koonkuk Starcity in Seoul and at Ansan.

Presently with about a 20% market share in Korea, Lotte has grown quickly to be the theatre circuit of choice in South Korea. We can’t exactly measure the “love and happiness” generated by Lotte, but they have certainly made an impression.