Universal, Warner Bros. Discovery Execs Mull Future of Asian Theatrical Business

Leading practitioners of the Asian theatrical business participated in a lively discussion on the future of the sector post-pandemic and the signs are encouraging.

Speaking at the APOS conference in Singapore on Thursday, moderated by Variety Asia editor Patrick Frater, Stephen Laslocky, VP at leading research firm Media Partners Asia, provided a handy overview of the theatrical market in Southeast Asia.

Laslocky said that Indonesia, the largest market in the region, would be back to 2019 levels of theatrical business by the end of 2022. “In Malaysia, the demand generally appears to be back, the issue was the pipeline just wasn’t so great, particularly this year. But next year, they think that’s going to improve for both local, which has done very well this year, and for foreign films next year,” Laslocky said.

“In the Philippines, I’m hearing some slightly more ambiguous feedback from a lot of people – frankly, their confidence is a little beat up, they’re not sure where things are headed,” Laslocky added. The executive said that in Thailand, the problem is the economy, where 15% of GDP is associated with the travel sector, which has barely begun to recover.

“Compounding that is the fact that I don’t think that you have many really good local producers creating decent content there, and that’s a challenge,” Laslocky said. “In Vietnam, things moving along quite nicely.”

Subha-Orn Rathanamongkolmas, VP, South Asia, Universal Pictures International, said that whatever the overall state of the market, local titles have done really well in all those territories, in some cases placing on the all time box office charts.

“Next year, you’re going to see a lot of the backlog which was delayed because of production house and effects house supply chain issues – they’re all going to come to the cinema screen,” said Kurt Rieder, senior VP, theatrical distribution (APAC), Warner Bros. Discovery. “By the end of 2023, we’ll know much better exactly what this looks like. Because everything will be normalized – will be normalized for COVID, will be normalized for the exhibition being healthy again, will be normalized for the slate coming from both local and foreign.”

Both Rathanamongkolmas and Rieder said that while there was a space for medium-sized and independent films in the theatrical release calendar, the overall slate would be key in the sector’s return to normalcy.

“With all the slate that’s coming in, especially in the summer of next year, we will see that the slate will be the key driver,” Rathanamongkolmas said. “We still believe that there are people out there who want to see these movies and not only just the big blockbusters, not only the franchise titles, but there are people who want to see arthouse films on the big screen. It’s just we have to work with exhibition and being able to deliver those. So as much as this year seems very one-dimensional – it seems that only all the blockbusters are making are making money – but that’s also because of the slate that’s been released.”

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