At the Forefront: Asian cinema blossoms by embracing technology

Cinemas Features

The Asia-Pacific region is highly driven by new technology, with consumers enjoying the novel experiences enabled by experiential cinema and manufacturers targeting the region for initial growth. Even with China sometimes skewing the overall importance of the region, the rest of the Asia-Pacific region is not being left behind.

Starting with the earliest of these new technologies—3D—Asia has fast become the home of 3D, driven by the success of that technology in China in particular. With China accounting for 45.6% of all 3D screens in the world, the whole of Asia accounted for 54.6% of all 3D screens, significantly higher than the 41.3% of the world’s screens that it possesses. China 3D revenues totalled over $4 billion in 2016, over 60% of all the country’s box office. By comparison, in the U.S., 3D revenues came in at $1.6 billion and the global was around $8 billion in 2016.

In the growing world of premium cinema, especially premium large format (PLF), Asia-Pacific contributed the largest number of the 507 new PLF screens in 2016 with 285, most of them (246, or 86%) in China. The region reached 1,055 PLF screens and surpassed North America, becoming the largest PLF screen base, accounting for 41% of all PLF screens at the end of 2016. However, this is broadly the same proportion of screens that it accounts for.

It is also the only region to host at least one screen of each of the seven global brands (including IMAX, CGS and Dolby Cinema). These deployed the vast majority of new screens, particularly IMAX, which built 127 (again reinforcing China’s position as the home of IMAX) and CGS, which built 60 screens in China. With 47 new exhibitor PLF screens built, led by Wanda’s installation of 18 XLand screens, Asia-Pacific was the region with the highest growth of this format overall. However, there is a clear dichotomy between the penetration of global brand PLF, where Asia accounts for 54.5% of all screens of this category, and exhibitor PLF, where Asia lags way behind with only 21.5% of global screens in this category.

4D is very strong in the Asia-Pacific region. Both 4DPLEX and MediaMation have focused their efforts in China and installed most of their new systems there. Asia as a region accounts for 71.4% of all 4D screens installed. (This does not include immersive motion seating, which is 4D without the environmental effects.) China alone has more than 200 4D screens—more than the next territory in the ranking, Japan, which has 68. However, Japan enjoys a much higher density of 4D screens with 2% of its screen base equipped with this system while only 0.5% of Chinese screens are.

In terms of companies, Asia also provides some of the world’s most influential firms in the sphere of cinema exhibition and cinema technology. AMC, which is the world’s largest cinema operator, is a subsidiary of Chinese group Wanda. Korean exhibition group CJ CGV is also expanding its exhibition footprint beyond Southeast Asia, having acquired Mars Cinemas in Turkey and more recently announcing it is developing a major circuit in Russia by 2020. (CGV also has one site in the USA.)

Asian companies are also at the forefront of experiential cinema technology. The Extreme 4D market is led by 4DX, a system developed by CJ 4DPLEX, a subsidiary of South Korean exhibition and technology company CJ CGV. The company opened its 415th location in Australia in October 2017. Most of these new theatres have appeared in Asia and particularly in China, where 4DX has focused its efforts. MediaMation is part-owned by Chinese group Shandong Luxin-Rio Visual Technology. MediaMation is strong in Asia, with over 83% of its nearly 200 global 4D installations in the region. Luxin-Rio recently acquired one of Europe’s leading digital cinema services and software companies, Arts Alliance Media. Luxin-Rio is also the owner of 3D brand Volfoni.

GDC has long been a global player in servers, software and newer cinema technology, such as immersive audio (via DTS:X distribution), screens and 3D products. Of course, projector and technology companies Sony and NEC are also Asian in origin, despite being global corporations with a very wide product and sector spread.

A newcomer to the world of cinema technology in 2017 has been LED direct-view cinema screens. Launched by Korean company Samsung, and also being developed by Sony, this potentially disruptive technology is utilizing Asia as a test hub. Samsung has now installed two such screens in Korea, and Major Cineplex in Thailand is installing an LED screen in Bangkok, which will open in February 2018.

The cinema world is watching these tests with interest and, due to this and all the other activity in the region as described above, all eyes are on the Asian cinema sector as a pointer to the future of the cinema industry around the world.


David Hancock is research director, film and cinema, at IHS Markit and president of the European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF). He will be present at CineAsia in Hong Kong, Dec. 11-14.