By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, March 9 (Yonhap) -- Park Se-yeon visits a theater complex in downtown Seoul twice a week but doesn't sit in front of the big screen to watch movies. She goes down to the fourth basement level and heads to an indoor climbing gym.
The office worker in her late 20s has been taking climbing classes at Peakers, which opened in January 2022 after the renovation of two auditoriums of the CGV Piccadilly 1958 multiplex in the Jongno district.
Park says she chose the facility for two reasons: It is close to her office and provides set courses with a height of up to 5.7 meters, taller than most other gyms typically under 4 meters.
"For climbers, a higher wall means more boulder problems to solve. I think this gym offers a wider range of vertical courses for advanced climbers," Park said. "Being already in a building with a theater, I sometimes watch movies between training sessions."
The indoor climbing gym is one of several sports facilities and entertainment venues, including bowling pubs, a golf studio and cartoon cafes, that have been converted from auditoriums by CJ CGV, South Korea's largest multiplex operator, in recent years.
The transformation comes as the movie industry is still reeling from the pandemic-driven slump and streaming platforms continuing to take viewers away from traditional cinemas.
The industry leader has been in the red since 2020 in the wake of COVID-19, but its operating losses decreased from 241.1 billion won (US$182.6 million) in 2021 to 76.8 billion won last year thanks to cost-cutting efforts and a hike in ticket prices.
The multiplex chain said turning its existing screens into leisure venues breathed new life into theaters struggling with declining clients.
"Although the number of total screens decreased following the renovations, the number of moviegoers did not dramatically fall," said Seo Ji-myeong, a public relations official at CJ CGV. "Actually, more customers visited theaters and used differentiated spaces, boosting their overall profitability."
In the case of CGV Piccadilly 1958, the climbing gym became a go-to spot to make friends and have a serious workout among millennials, changing the age demographic mix in the theater that used to have a high ratio of senior customers, Seo said.
Encouraged by positive feedback, CJ CGV in November opened its second climbing gym in a theater near the Guro Digital Complex and plans to open another in Sinchon, a university neighborhood in western Seoul, later this month, according to company officials.
Now, the multiplex franchise wants to build on the momentum by following up on another hot youth sports trend, golf.
Last month, the chain opened The Approach, a short game golf studio, at CGV Songpa in southeastern Seoul.
In the main room that utilizes an 8-meter-high auditorium, much taller than the minimum standard of 2.8 meters for indoor golf studios, users can practice approach shots on the green and bunker shots in sand traps.
They can also play simulated 18-hole games in rooms that look like other virtual reality golf courses widely popular in urban areas, locally called "screen golf."
"It is a space suitable for golfers who want to improve their short game skills," Seo said.
The company said it will continue to look for ways to creatively convert theater spaces to boost sales and diversify its business portfolio.
"This year, (CJ CGV) will provide more premium screens for differentiated experiences and expand businesses that utilize theater spaces to evolve as a 'space business operator,'" CJ CGV CEO Heo Min-hoi said as part of the release of the annual earnings report.
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