Korean Cinemas Adapt as Box Office Recovery Weakens

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Cinemas in Korea are trying to adapt to new straitened circumstances as the autumn box office recovery peters out. The Korean market, in normal years the world’s fourth largest theatrical territory, saw aggregate revenues of just $1.44 million over the weekend, according to data from the Korean Film Council’s KOBIS service.

The top of the chart was a rerun of the previous weekend, with Korean “Best Friend” taking top place, ahead of local adventure drama “Collectors” and U.S. mystery thriller “Run.” But numbers were down in each case. “Best Friend” grossed $526,000, down from $1.03 million in its opening, for a $2.60 million cumulative. “Collectors” earned just $221,000 for a cumulative of $12.0 million. “Run” has $1.99 million earned since Nov. 20.

Weekend numbers dropped for the fourth frame in succession as audiences react to Korea’s coronavirus undulations and film releases dry up. Previous weekends had been worth $2.29 million, $3.77 million and $4.98 million.

Nationwide grosses in November fell to $29.7 million, down from October’s $38.3 million performance, and a long way down from August’s $71.3 million, which at the time seemed to be a sign of recovery after a disastrous first February to June period.

KOBIS data shows year to date ticket sales down by 72%, at 58.1 million, compared with 204 million in the first 11 months of 2019.

Leading cinema chains had already responded by closing some venues to cut costs, and increased prices to maximize revenue. They are now turning to non-theatrical content to bring in audiences.

The Yonhap news agency reports that CJ-CGV will this week begin screening a 147-minute, condensed version of Korean drama “Breakup Suspension,” a 10-part series that broadcaster SBS will show on small screens later this month. The same chain previously gave theatrical screenings to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1998 TV series “Dekalog,” while Megabox recently showed recent Thai series “Bad Genius: The Series.”

Video screenings of classical music concerts and live-streaming of video game competitions are other forms of alternate content being experimented with by the Korean circuits.

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