Massive boost for South African cinemas

The cinema market in South Africa is in a good space despite this being the era of streaming services, and titles like Barbie and Oppenheimer have boosted business at Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor.

MyBroadband asked Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor about how these recent hit titles had performed for them and whether they were looking at any other avenues to generate revenue in the age of streaming.

Nu Metro marketing head Melanie Williams said Barbie significantly boosted cinema attendance, while Oppenheimer exceeded the company’s expectations.

“Nu Metro experienced an overwhelming response to Barbie at our cinemas, delivering record-breaking box office results and an encouraging uptick in attendances, including various sold-out shows across its opening weekend,” said Williams.

“The box office results of both Barbie and Oppenheimer confirmed that audiences are attracted to the timeless cinema experience, which remains a viable out-of-home entertainment option that can’t be replicated elsewhere.”

Ster-Kinekor saw a similar trend. Chief marketing officer Lynne Wylie told MyBroadband that Barbie is its top title for the year so far.

“Both Barbie and Oppenheimer have performed extremely well on the Ster-Kinekor circuit,” said Wylie.

“Barbie’s cinema attendance is number one for the 2023 calendar year to date and has ranked in position 20 in the Southern Africa All Time Top 100 list for Box Office as of August 2023.”

It added that this is a notable feat as Barbie only released in 2D.

Oppenheimer ranks eighth in attendance for the Ster-Kinekor Circuit Three calendar year. It is also the top IMAX release with the highest attendance of the calendar year.

Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken in Barbie

Several events have threatened the cinema market in South Africa in recent years, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of streaming services.

However, Nu Metro said it doesn’t view streaming services as competitors.

“We don’t consider streaming as a competitive platform but rather as a parallel medium through which content is consumed,” said Williams.

“An analogy would be dining at a restaurant versus ordering a take-away meal. It’s all about the experience.”

To this end, the company has begun diversifying the content it offers. This includes screening concerts, special events, and sports.

“In the past, we’ve screened live concerts from artists as diverse as BTS, Coldplay, Roger Waters, Billie Eilish, and André Rieu,” said Williams.

“Earlier this year, we screened a global listening session ahead of Metallica’s 72 Seasons album launch, followed by a broadcast of their international concert tour live from Texas in our premium large-format Xtreme cinemas.”

“Nu Metro also screened the UEFA Championship League Soccer Final live in our Canal Walk cinema, in partnership with Pepsi South Africa,” she added.

Williams said Nu Metro has hosted local music and live comedy events on-stage at their Cinemas.

Ster-Kinekor has adopted a similar approach, focusing on music content.

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer. Image: Universal Pictures

“There is also a focus on non-traditional cinema content, also known as ‘alternative’ content, such as music events to generate additional revenue,” said Wylie.

“Ster-Kinekor had an exclusive screening of the 4D reimagined Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense, in IMAX for one screening. The two cinemas were sold out, and a repeat screening at all Ster-Kinekor IMAX cinemas countrywide is taking place on 24 September.”

Upcoming music specials at Ster Kinekor cinemas include Carlos: The Santana Journey on 23 and 27 September and ABBA: The Movie on 8 and 10 October.

MyBroadband also asked the cinema companies about the threat posed by the ongoing Writer’s Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

Williams said the strikes concern exhibitors and distributors globally, with many titles’ release dates being delayed significantly.

“The strike has not only halted production, but actors and filmmakers are also blocked from participating in any form of promotional or publicity activity to launch movie releases effectively to audiences,” she said.

“The result is that the release dates of quite a few major titles have already been moved to 2024.”

Williams said Nu Metro’s revenue will be adversely impacted without strong blockbusters coming to its theatres.

Wylie underscored that, even if production has been completed and the movies can be released, actors in the Writer’s Guild and SAG-AFTRA unions can’t do any publicity for films being released or appearing at any award shows.

“The result is that films that could have benefited from the promotional hype of press tours and red-carpet events are not performing as well as our projected forecasts,” said Wylie.

“The knock-on effect is that a number of titles’ release dates have been pushed out to 2024, with other future projects being put on hold until negotiations are concluded.”

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Massive boost for South African cinemas