With increasing prices and obtuse promotion schemes, movie multiplexes have made some very vocal enemies. BK hears them out. By Monruedee Jansuttipan and Natthanun Prasongchaikul

Movie goers are angry. They say movies are too expensive and, given that we’re paying, should be ad-free. They also take offense with discount cards whose fine print make them all but useless and complex pricing structures that allow multiplexes to claim “normal prices” that are a far cry from what one truly pays.

We contacted Major and SF, and both refused to comment on this topic. In interviews to the Bangkok Post and The Nation in May and June (after Major raised its prices by B20 without notice), the two big multiplex operators argued that they offer a variety of prices and are cheaper than Asian capitals like Singapore or Hon g Kong. Their critics, though, argue salaries here are also much lower. The “price choice” argument, too, has been challenged. Multiplexes claim starting prices from B60 on Wednesdays to B120 in “normal” theaters, that are a fraction of what you would pay for a film on its opening weekend at Paragon (B200) or CentralWorld (B180). To qualify for the lowest rate however a movie must be:
• out for a certain number of days, from three to seven
• shown Mon-Wed, except public holidays
• shown in a non-digital theater, which are increasinly rare in multiplexes.

And as more and more screenings switch to 3D, there are also fewer 2D show times, so that you’re more likely to have to see a movie in 3D just to get a show time that works for you. In that case, tickets are at least B260.

This is a free country, though. If the middle-class are so angry, they can go pay B100 at House, Scala or Lido—or attend B80-100 screenings on Wednesdays in multiplexes, if they can stand the wait. And let’s not forget that cheaper neighborhood theaters with tickets around B60 were abandoned, not so much because of multiplexes, but because of VCDs. Clearly, Bangkokians have separated into those who have simply given up on movies, at any price, and those who are actually happy to pay B360-520 per couple for two hours in the dark, living romances and adventures, with no mobile phones and no internet to interrupt the dream. That’s probably the saddest part of this price war between multiplex and consumer: whether you think these prices are realistic or not, they are equivalent to a day’s minimum wage (B215 in Bangkok) for a single seat. It’s official, movies are now exclusively for the rich. The poor can watch lakorn for free on television.

Tuchchai Wongkitrungrueng

Head of Network of Thai Movie Audience

Do you think the outcry against movie ticket prices is just a passing fad?
The fact that the Facebook page, Network of Movie Lovers Against Unfair Advertising in Major Cineplex Theatres, has gained more than 20,000 in just one month isn’t just an accident. It shows that people have been upset about this problem for a long time.

Why now though?
I think the last straw was May 10, 2011, when Major raised their ticket prices without warning. People went to the cinemas, because it was a holiday, and found that the tickets were now B160-200. Another reason might be that our complaints never really received proper feedback from the government, like the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB) or the Department of Internal Trade at the Ministry of Commerce. All they do is issue warnings, but nothing changes. After cinemas got a warning from the OCPB, they just put a sign in the Cineplex lobby, warning that there will be 25 minutes of ads. Sometimes they even cut trailers to make sure all the ads fit in the allotted time.

Do you think the cinemas are honest to consumers?
No. If it was just a bit, it would be fine, but they do it all the time. They have so many bogus promotions that are a huge headache and don’t really cut a bargain for the consumer. I tried to use a promotion from Truemove, but they said I could only use it next month. Then I went back next month, and they said it had already expired. Their promotion cards have really shifty conditions, and you can never use them for new movies or for movies they designate as “special.”

What do you think about the law that says movie theaters are a lifestyle choice whose prices cannot be regulated?
It’s true but going to the movies is a significant part of the lives of city dwellers. It’s a way to socialize with friends and family. If a father brings his wife and two kids to the theater, that’s B640 or even B800. They have no choice as the only cinemas anywhere near their home are Major or EGV. The operators are selling expensive tickets because they know that all these people will come to the movies anyway.

What is the long-term damage?
They are destroying cinema culture. I used to feel thankful that cinema culture was being revived by cineplexes 15 years ago, after standalone cinemas were dead due to video and DVD. But now the way they’re doing business is making people wary of going to the theaters. It’s really expensive to go out to see a movie. Travel expense, food and tickets. It’s true that people still go to the movies even though the tickets are as high as B300, but attendance will definitely go down. We now have fewer quality movies in the last two years because audiences only see movies with special effects or mega productions. It will make Thai cinema decline too.

Noppasorn Yaemutai

Cinema Manager, House Theater

How would you characterize average Thai movie-goers?
I think we’re addicted to convenience. We used to have simple cinemas that only showed movies, not all the extraneous commodities, like these days. Many less fancy cinemas are now closed now as audiences are unimpressed by their lack of frills. The truth is that cineplexes have to invest at least B200-300 million to build complexes to serve the audiences’ desires. There’s no way these people will make their money back by selling B100 tickets, so they do everything to gain money. It’s a business. And audiences either don’t know or don’t act like they have any choice in the matter. Don’t just show up at these theaters and pay to watch their movies. You’re having an experience that has already been decided for you. If you just want to watch a movie, why do you need all those excesses?

But aren’t prices rising due to higher tech screenings?
I also go to big cineplexes, and I’m fine with paying extra for a 3D or 4D film because the movie is made to be seen that way. But I will not pay such prices for watching just a regular digital movie. It doesn’t cost much to upgrade from film projectors to hard disk ones. The digital projections aren’t that sharp either. I know for a fact that analog film projections give the sharpest quality. It’s just that the quality drops as the reel ages.

What do you think about the public outcry on Facebook page against big cinema chains?
It’s just a trend. We all already know what the problems are. Social networking just gives them a place to vent. Some people address the problem by going to the cinema late to avoid all the ads before the movie starts, but that’s not really fixing the problem. If we want a solution, we must be united to do something real.

How is House doing?
It’s doing OK, considering it started seven years ago. Those who love to watch good movies on the big screen come here. But we can’t really compete with big cineplexes around town. Our income is fairly close to our expense. We only have three staff members—myself, an usher and a projector technician. Though we try to manage, we still can’t make a good income. Just enough to pay expenses.

Why are you guys struggling?
First of all, we’re not easily accessible. We don’t have BTS or MRT stops close to us, like other cinemas do. Even the Airport Link, even though it’s right behind us, doesn’t stop here. And of course, in the digital era, it’s easier and quicker for audiences to watch movies from the internet instead of coming all the way here. And in the case of movies that have recently won prizes at major festivals, people can watch them more quickly online rather than wait for the film to come to Bangkok.

How much does it cost to bring in a movie?
It’s totally different from the old days. Indie movies used to come as a bonus when movie importers bought bulk movie packages from major distributors. That’s how House got started—as a place that would screen these bonus movies. But now, all movies have agents. Importers have to choose movies before they hit the festival circuit, because once the film wins a prize, it will be more expensive. The next problem is the timing. We have to bring films in fast, so that people will not download them or buy them on DVD. And sometimes big cinemas screen those indie films, too.

What makes House different from other theaters?
We try to make this place a haven for movie-lovers. We only ever charge B100 for a ticket, and you don’t have to endure the chaos of shopping malls to watch the limited range of blockbusters they happen to be screening. We also have a small library and a DVD club where members can borrow movies for only B10 each and also share their DVD collection for others to borrow. We don’t have ads either.

Do you see this place as having a growing audience?
Yes. But it’s still a small group. At first we thought the main audience would be students but in fact they are mostly professionals. And sometimes a movie will gain an audience slowly, after it’s been playing for weeks.

Tassanee Nan-udon

Consumer Foundation and Smart Buyer Editor

The ticket price and endless advertising at movie theaters is not a new problem, is it?
Not really. We’ve been noticing it for a while, so we started the magazine Chalad Sue [Smart Buyer] in July 2009. We found that although there are long advertisements before projecting the movie, complaints had been very mild. And the distributors always make the excuse that they have to cover a lot of expenses. Half the ticket price goes to the movie theater and the other half goes towards covering copyright costs (the movie), and the ads help them cover these costs, which was an acceptable excuse. But now consumers are feeling taken advantage of because the number of ads has increased, and so has the ticket price. I’m personally quite happy that consumers, through Facebook groups, are coming forward and asking questions to the corporations, because normally, Thai people don’t protest unless it gets to really be too much. If there are this many advertisements, the ticket price should stay the same, especially when some theaters have less advertisements, like Apex, Scala or even SF. Also, our research shows that nowadays what we pay for a movie ticket is extremely expensive compared to our cost of living.

Do you think consumers are really outraged now, or does it just seem that way because of social media?
A bit of both. When we consulted the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB), they said movie tickets were an unregulated product, since we’re not obligated to go to the theater, and that the business is an agreement between movie theaters and consumers, and the OCPB cannot intervene. And social media makes it easier to protest. You don’t have to walk the streets when you can just click “like” on Facebook. In the US, it’s very common to have pages where consumers can complain, and companies pay heed, because it affects their image.

Do you think the movie theater business is a duopoly?
It’s quite true. If you make a chart of people who own cinemas in Thailand, you will find out they are all relatives.

Will this recent outcry bring any change?
It might, but I’m not sure how far it will go. It depends on the consumers and whether they go on campaigning about this issue. Seeing a movie now is not cheap. If the people feel it’s too expensive, they will stop going or choose a better way to entertain themselves. But they will have to stand united to send a clear message to the cinemas to stop doing business like this. We might gather a massive group to watch a big hit movie at another theater, instead of the one what we’re campaigning against. It will send a clear message that they can’t just do anything they like.

Admin of Rojam Facebook Group:

Network of Movie Lovers Against Unfair Advertising in Major Cineplex Theatres

Why did you start this group?
I believe in the power of social networks more than that of Thai authority. We’ve all complained at the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB) and found out that apart from the fact that you have to wait for a pretty long period of time, once it’s your turn to clarify your problems, you will be sent to another department. Like this movie theater issue—they will send you to the Department of Internal Trade at the Ministry of Commerce and they will eventually send you to the Ministry of Culture. To be exact, there’s no real help from anybody and it affects a lot of people. Let’s say the total revenue of the movie business is now billions. Isn’t it a lot? A significant percentage of Bangkokians spend their leisure time by going to the mall and watching a movie. The citizens’ happiness involves going to the movies, so why can’t the authorities pay attention to this matter?

Why do you choose to use social media?
I always do my work online. When I first launched this page, I aimed to talk with the people who were having a problem with the Major Group at the Pinklao branch. I didn’t expect much, but then I ended up meeting so many more people. The more I talked with these people, the more I learned about the tricky and exploitative tricks employed by corporate groups.

What do you hope to achieve?
As a movie lover, I want us to enjoy movies at affordable prices. If it’s going to be expensive, it should at least be reasonably so. Movie theaters aren’t meant to be like five-star hotels. Don’t apply high-season/low-season prices, and variable prices by categorizing seats, or movies. Some days there are 10 rows available for a cheap price, but other times, if the movie is a hit, there are only five designated rows for cheap seats. We can’t find any standards. They sell us a cash card that’s worth thousands, but when the card expires, if there’s still money on it, we lose it and have to pay another B100 for an extension. The theaters take advantage of us in any way possible, down to the smallest details.

Do you think the problems come only from corporations or from consumers as well?
Thai consumers are in servitude. The movie business in Thailand is like a monopoly, as the other competitors have a lot fewer theaters. The prices are raised without prior notice and cheap seats are constantly decreasing and expensive seats increasing. And Wednesdays are supposed to be B60 but in fact it’s more like B120. The B60 only happens at theaters out of town. And because movie-goers keep paying, the corporations keep charging. They’re never going to stop being greedy.

So you think anything will change?
Right now I only want Thai consumers to realize that they’re being taken advantage of and that they should do something about it. But Thai people are hard to change. A few people are fighting for change, while everyone else is just waiting around for the benefits of those changes. I am sort of getting bored being here, too. People come up to me and ask why I’m not talking about this or that other company, but they don’t do anything themselves.

Why do you think the OCPB isn’t taking action?
I think they are just a government bureaucracy that takes people’s tax money for nothing. They’re useless. They’re just like a cancer or an appendix. They’re there, but you can’t really use them.

Do you think this campaign will last in the long-term?
I think we might upgrade to be a monitor group. And if they still don’t change, then the campaign against them will truly begin. I am currently recruiting people on Facebook and asking them to be vigilant about their rights. In the end we might spread the word to start a movie theater boycott.

Get it For Less: Reading into Movie Ticket Discounts’ Fine Print

Major Cineplex

  The Deal The Fine Print
M Generation Card, White and Black

The black card offers B20 discounts and redeemable points.

The white card offers B40 discounts and points for students only.

The white M Gen card doesn’t apply to weekdays after 6pm at most branches.

Every B20 spent, you get 1 point. 1 point = 1 baht. In others words, buy 20 tickets, get one free.

Krungsri Credit Card and Home Pro Visa

 Buy-one-get-one-free when paying with Krungsri credit card or Home Pro Visa.

Buy tickets with Krungsri points. (1000 points = B100)

 It only applies on Mondays at Paragon Cineplex, Esplanade Cineplex, Paradise Cineplex, Major Cineplex and EGV at non-digital screens and normal seats. Only 5 tickets per day and per account, four times per month. Until 30 Nov ‘11.

Tickets with points only apply at Paragon Cineplex, Esplanade Cineplex, Paradise Cineplex, Major Cineplex and EGV. Only 5 tickets give-away per day, per account. Until 31 Dec ‘11.

Movie Day (Wednesday) The price of movie tickets starts at B60. Doesn’t apply on public holidays. Doesn’t apply to movies less than one week old. B60 is only for multiplexes outside of the city center. Paragon digital theater is B160 after 6pm.
Movie @ Night B80 tickets for every movie after 8:30pm Sun-Tue at Esplanade Ngarmwongwarn-Kaerai only. Normal seats, no public holidays, no new movies.
AIS B80 movie tickets every Sat and Sun. Only for 5,000 seats per day. One seat for one phone number per month. Serenade or Blackberry users can get two seats for one phone number. Available only for normal seats and normal theaters. Until July 17.



  The Deal The Fine Print
Movie Day (Wednesday) B80 movie tickets

Doesn’t apply to the movies out for less
than one week and national holidays.
Applies only to normal seats in non-digital theaters. SF World Cinema at Central
World starts B90 but count B130 for a
digital theater.

Student card B80 movie tickets Doesn’t apply to weekdays after 6pm
and weekends. Starts from B90 at
CentralWorld. Doesn’t apply to digital
screening rooms.In short, count B160 for
a digital screening on Sat-Sun, a mere
B20 off.


Paragon Cineplex
SF World Cinema at CentralWorld UMG, RCA
Century Movie Plaza
A normal seat on Wednesdays (non-digital, no new releases)
A normal seat in a non-digital theater on Mon-Tue
A normal seat for a digital movie on Thu-Sun.
A normal seat in a 3D theater on Thu-Sun
Two Enigma seats
A normal seat on Wednesdays (non-digital, no new releases)
A normal seat in a non-digital theater on Mon-Tue
A normal seat for a digital movie on Thu-Sun
A normal seat in a 3D theater on Thu-Sun
Happiness World seat, Thu-Sun

A sofa bed seat
A normal seat

House, Apex, Lido, Scala

Any seat

A normal seat in a 3D theater on Thu-Sun
A normal seat, Thu-Sun



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