April 7, 2009 Tuesday

[B][SIZE="5"]Can Lido regain top ranking?[/SIZE][/B]

[B]The 16-year-old cineplex needs sprucing up amid competition from new cinemas located in malls and near transport hubs[/B]

By john lui

[SIZE="1"]The new 1,400-seat Filmgarde cinema at the Iluma mall in Victoria Street (left) could pose more competition for the ageing Lido Cineplex in Orchard Road. -- PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER, THE STRAITS TIMES FILES[/SIZE]

The opening last month of the 1,400-seat Filmgarde cinema at the Iluma mall in Victoria Street with its up-to-date sound and projection system has given cinemagoers more choice in terms of halls.

But it has also shone the spotlight on the competition among cinemas in and on the outskirts of Orchard Road and how the 16-year-old Lido Cineplex, the first cineplex in Orchard Road, is starting to look its age.

In the ranking of cinemas by ticket sales of PG movies, Lido Cineplex has slipped from being in the top three a decade ago to fifth place.

Cathay Cineplex at Orchard Cineleisure, which opened in 1997 and Golden Village VivoCity, which opened in 2006, slug it out for the top position while the 11-year-old Golden Village Plaza is in third position.

The drop in Lido's ranking comes when cinema attendance has been climbing in recent years, reaching just over 19 million last year, close to its 1991 peak of 20.7 million, before video piracy took its toll.

Why has Lido, despite its prime location, slipped from the top three ranking?

Cinemagoers whom Life! spoke to mentioned how maintenance seems to have slipped at the cineplex owned by Shaw Organisation. Grouses ranged from overflowing toilet waste bins and strong food smells in the lobby to sticky floors and seats that rock backwards, cutting into the legroom of the person seated behind.

National serviceman Chen Jian Rong, 21, said: 'I do not like Lido because of the constant strong deep-fried and popcorn smells in the entire theatre. The ventilation is really lousy. Lido should also make the seats more spacious. Air freshener in the theatre would be nice.'

According to people in the industry, Lido cineplex, rebuilt from scratch in 1993 and renovated in 2003 and 2007, is a victim of increased competition and rising consumer expectations.

These days, cinemas are no longer the destinations they used to be, they say. Cinemas now have to be part of an environment that includes a mall and the range of entertainment and transport facilities.

National serviceman Roy Wan, 24, gave a fairly typical response. He likes to watch movies at GV Plaza at the south end of Orchard Road, around the Dhoby Ghaut Interchange MRT station, and the attraction is all about location, location, location.

It is the part of Orchard Road that is closest to another attraction, the malls at Marina, he said. It is also well served by buses, he said.

'My last bus comes after midnight so I can watch movies that play after 9pm. I watch mostly late-night movies,' he said.

Others whom Life! spoke to said the proximity of The Cathay in Handy Road and GV Plaza also meant more choices in the Dhoby Ghaut area. Both cinemas combined offer 18 halls and over 3,000 seats, upping the chances of snagging tickets to a show at a time that is convenient.

The opening of VivoCity mall in 2006 has also slightly shifted the cinema-going habit out of the prime Orchard Road shopping belt. The new mall has become a whole-day destination spot for families, said industry experts.

In the ranking of cinemas by ticket sales, GV VivoCity with 15 halls can sometimes take the top spot.

As one exhibitor-distributor who declined to be identified explained: 'Teens and young people on dates buy two tickets at a time, but one family buys four or more tickets.'

Another shift that has happened in cinema-going in recent years is the death and rebirth of the neighbourhood cinema.

Even as older halls such as Princess in Bedok Central were being shuttered, the new breed owned and operated by Singapore's four main exhibitors was becoming a force to be reckoned with.

The new halls succeeded because they were located in malls linked to MRT stations, unlike the older standalone suburban cinemas. And being cineplexes, they offered choice, said the experts.

This explains why neighbourhood cineplexes such as those in Downtown East, Tampines Central and Ang Mo Kio Hub can sometimes boast opening-weekend box-office takings that rival those of central cineplexes.

Again, the family factor is at work. It is simply cheaper for families to catch a movie in their neighbourhood than to travel all the way to Orchard Road.

Ms Rohaidah Mohamed, 30, a supervisor, put it simply: 'I like Downtown East because I live in Pasir Ris.'

The top cineplex in the ranking, Cathay Cineplex at Orchard Cineleisure, opened in 1997 with the idea that it would fit in with the mix of activities in its youth-centric mall. It could do this because the cineplex and the mall are owned by Cathay.

This allows Cathay to keep the place buzzing hours after other malls have closed. This means not being ejected out of a dark, shuttered building after a late-night show, such as at Plaza Singapura or Marina Square.

Ms Veronica Yong, assistant general manager of Cathay Cineplexes, said the mall has opening hours that 'extend beyond the norm, giving our patrons a venue to hang out at when they are out late'.

The cineplex is also newer than its competitor down the road at Shaw Centre and boasts better equipment. With 12 halls, it offers more choice than Lido's eight halls.

Cathay has also tried to keep up with rising expectations by offering more options for those willing to pay more. The cineplex serves food to patrons in their seats.

When contacted, Shaw executive vice-president Mark Shaw conceded: 'We're the first to need a major revamp today because we opened first in Orchard.'

He said plans to overhaul the cineplex have been delayed by the economic downturn. But some upgrading of the halls will be carried out.

'Lido 5, 6 and 7 will be closed in phases for upgrading work, such as replacing the upholstery, fixing the seats, changing the carpet and so on,' he said.

The staff will also be improving general cleanliness especially in the washrooms, he added.

He also said that when the Ion Orchard mall opens later this year, the buzz around the Scotts Road junction, where Lido is, will increase.

Right now, he said, the Dhoby Ghaut area is attracting attention.

'There is a lot of newer stuff down there,' he said. The youth factor is strong in the area also because of the Singapore Management University, he added.

But he is confident that the delay in the overhaul will give Shaw 'an opportunity to design a flagship cineplex that will also attract the younger demographic besides the current mature crowd.

'Stay tuned,' he said.

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[B]How the halls measure up[/B]

Life! went to two halls in each of the three main cineplexes in Orchard Road. We measured seat size (from backrest to edge of seat) and legroom (from edge of seat to back of seat in front). We also noted the cleanliness of the halls and toilets


Hall 3
No. of seats: 191 Seat size: 44cm
Legroom: 36cm
The carpet had popcorn strewn all over it. The seats were firmly fixed, velvety and comfortable. They were in good condition and did not feel dirty or sticky. No carpet odour.

Hall 4
No. of seats: 116 Seat size: 44cm
Legroom: 36cm
This hall was a lot cleaner with just scraps of straw wrappers. Overall, a pleasant movie experience.
The toilets were clean.


Hall 8
No. of seats: 147 Seat size: 42cm
Legroom: 45cm
The seats were slightly faded but quite comfortable and cushioned. The carpet had a few stains but no scraps of food or litter. There was a faint odour of sweat.

Hall 6
No. of seats: 68 Seat size: 45 cm
Legroom: 50cm
The seats were very comfortable. The legroom is good for tall patrons. The carpets were clean, there were no stains.
The toilets were clean.


Lido 4
No. of seats: 130 Seat size: 43cm
Legroom: 30cm
The swing seats can lean back quite drastically, so the legroom depends on whether the patron in the seat in front decides to settle back. The chairs looked clean though the cushions were slightly worn. The floor looked worn and scratched and had popcorn and food bits strewn about. The slight food odour could be attributed to the patrons in the cinema.

Lido 7
No. of seats: 122 Seat size: 43cm Legroom: 39cm
The seats rock backwards, so the amount of legroom is reduced depending on the size of the person in front.
The cushions on the folding seats were quite scratchy and worn but not threadbare. No stains or stickiness. The floor looked worn and scratched, and had popcorn and food litter as well as some stains.
The women's toilet in the lobby reeked of urine. There was a lot of litter, especially bits of toilet paper in the cubicles and around the sinks. The dustbin overflowed. The sinks were dirty and stained. The taps (above) were rusty. There were also stains on the walls and mirrors.

[I]Additional reporting by Fiona Low, Natasha Ann Zachariah and Nur Shakylla Saifudin[/I]

[B]Top five cinemas[/B]

This ranking is based on the opening weekend box-office returns of a typical PG-rated family film and compiled from industry sources. Results may vary depending on the number of prints an exhibitor chooses to screen in a cineplex and how frequent the screenings are.


2. GV VIVOCITY: 15 halls, 2,172 seats

3. GV PLAZA: 10 halls, 1,175 seats

4. CATHAY CINEPLEX: Eight halls, 1,866 seats

5. LIDO CINEPLEX: Eight halls, 2,238 seats