Curtain falls on outdoor cinemas

Once a staple of communities, these traditional movie venues are being shoved aside by digital technology.

Small outdoor cinema operators are bracing for tougher business after being hit by the arrival of digital technology.

Scenes such as this one may soon be relegated to period films. PRASIT TANGPRASERT

They are paying attention to new challenges caused by the digital age but cannot afford to go digital, said Kumthorn Iamsuwan, owner of Thaicine outdoor cinema.

This year is considered a critical time for many small outdoor cinema operators to survive, due mainly to the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

"We will be forced to go out of business once an original manuscript totally changes from film format to a digital file," Mr Kumthorn said.

Outdoor movies have been declining in popularity in recent years, particularly in Greater Bangkok and other major cities, but the format still thrives in remote northeastern communities.

Mr Kumthorn said many movie studios are changing their original copies from film format to digital files.

Leading cinema operators such as Major Cineplex and SF Cinema Group already use digital projectors.

It is also a global trend that movie screening is changing to the digital system, which provides clearer pictures and better sound for viewers.

Moreover, consumers today want more convenient facilities and high quality when watching movies.

Movie studio agents such as UIP Thailand and Sony Pictures Thailand, which have Hollywood movie copyrights, will halt the production of film format and distribute only digital files by the middle of this year.

Some Thai movie studios such as Sahamokol Film have confirmed they will stop producing movies in film format in another year or two.

The revenue of outdoor cinema operators comes from events that hire them to attract visitors.

Outdoor movies can be seen at temples, shrine fairs and special events such as tourism fairs.

The operators are mostly older people who love the charm of outdoor cinema and earn a small profit.

Digital projectors cost 5-10 million baht, an investment that is out of reach for them as outdoor cinema declines in popularity.

Mr Kumthorn admitted outdoor cinema will face extinction once the digital format takes over, but some operators may be able to exist at small events.

Thailand has about 200 outdoor cinema operators.

Operators of small indoor cinemas are also affected by digital technology.

Sutthipongsa Chuenpakdee, the manager of Thonburi Rama, said the theatre will close in another month or two after suffering losses for five years.

"We are trying hard to preserve our cinema but can't earn enough. I use money from other businesses to help the cinema," he said.

The cinema's revenue does not cover monthly expenses, as consumers prefer to watch movies at modern facilities in shopping malls.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Saengwit Kewaleewongsatorn
Position: Business Reporter