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Protracted COVID-19 pandemic pushes out non-profitable art house theaters

All News 11:47 July 20, 2022

By Kim Boram

SEOUL, July 20 (Yonhap) -- Independent and art film-only theaters have been losing ground as the protracted novel coronavirus pandemic pushes multiplex operators to tighten their belt.

CJ CGV, South Korea's largest multiplex chain, said earlier it will close Myeongdong Station Cine Library, located in downtown Seoul, next month, citing financial issues.

"Due to the yearslong COVID-19 pandemic, we've faced financial difficulties, such as rising rents and management expenses," said a CGV official. "Moreover, less-than-expected viewers came to see indie and art films."

Launched in 2015, Cine Library is CGV's signature art and indie film-only theater, housing five screens with a combined 694 seats. It also has a collection of 11,000 books on filmmaking and cinema.

This image provided by CJ CGV shows a theater at Myeongdong Station Cine Library in downtown Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The shutdown of Cine Library came months after CGV closed three art movie-only screens in the Greater Seoul area in January.

CGV runs the "CGV Arthouse" program devoted to art and indie films since 2004, setting up art house theaters or designating one or two screens to show only non-commercial art films at its branches.

But the company started to downsize the CGV Arthouse program and close non-profitable theaters last year as part of its large-scale restructuring plan to reduce the number of its branches by 30 percent.

With the closure of Cine Library, CGV will have 16 art house screens at 14 branches nationwide.

A promotional image of CGV's Arthouse program (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Two other major multiplex chains, Lotte Cinema and Megabox, currently run eight and two screens, respectively, for art and indie films.

KT&G, South Korea's dominant tobacco company, had also suspended its philanthropic KT&G Sangsang Madang project in 2020 for about a year in the midst of the pandemic. It has financed a number of indie films and fostered up-and-coming film directors since the mid-2000s.

The moves came as the South Korean cinema industry is still struggling with a financial crunch stemming from the yearslong pandemic.

CGV reported an operating loss of 388.7 billion won (US$297 million) in 2020 and 241.1 billion won for 2021 due mainly to a sharp drop in box office sales.

And the weak balance sheet is expected continue for upcoming quarters despite a rebound in ticket sales, as the pandemic winds down from the spring of 2022.

The number of moviegoers in South Korea plunged some 70 percent to 59.5 million in 2020 and 60.5 million in 2021 from 226.7 million tallied in 2019.

Total revenues reached 510 billion won in 2020 and 584 billion won in 2021, down sharply from 1.9 trillion won in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.


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