Until two years ago, Sokny Sao’s weekend plans were simple: spending a long time at home to watch movies.
But “watching with a big screen is totally a larger satisfaction than that with small monitors”, the 33-year-old said.
In August 2011, this thought took shape. The Platinum Cineplex opened on the fifth floor of the Sorya Shopping Centre, and Sokny Sao became the managing director for the theatre’s owner, the Cineplex Investment Group Plc.
“The cinema has always been a big attraction for people in Phnom Penh ever since the opening. I would say the number of customers for this year will be triple [the amount] of the first year,” he says.
With more than 200,000 moviegoers in 2012, the cinema – counting 300 seats – is packed at night and on the weekends, “dragging” those at home into the cinema, according to Sao.
“We offer giant screens, high quality sound system and comfortable sofas as well as 3D movies, which are all new and fascinating to local Cambodians more used to sticking to small monitors,” he says.
In addition to the Platinum Cineplex, a competing site has opened its doors to Phnom Penh’s movie fans – the Legend Cinema in City Mall. But Sao said the common goals for the two theatres are to promote the culture of cinemas – a concept that can be of use.
Showing a mix of international releases including Hollywood blockbusters, Asian features and locally-produced flicks, Khmer movies are among the most popular.
“The main reason is that Cambodians would love to hear their mother languages in a movie, they will have more understanding than [during] English or Thai movies,” Sao says.
To boost sales and attract more customers, Platinum Cineplex advertises on Facebook, where they post pictures and trailers of current and up-coming movies, as well as the day’s film schedule. More than 35,000 people are following the page.
Nonetheless, running a cinema is not an easy business. The movie theatre has made enough profit to compensate for a start-up investment of more than one million dollar. However, fluctuating operating costs and topsy-turvy viewership can pose a threat to the business.
“Our profits depend on the occupancy of every show we are playing. We need to have an average of at least 50 to 60 per cent [of the seats] occupied in order to cover the costs,” Sao said.
The occupancy rate for weekends can usually make up to 90 per cent, but some weekday shows will fill 30 to 40 per cent of the seats.
Enforcement of intellectual property laws in Cambodia is rare. While Sao says the Cineplex is not worried about the high popularity of pirate DVDs, they are joining hands with other key stakeholders like Legend and filmmakers to form the Motion Picture Association of Cambodia. The association aims at developing the local film industry and fighting against piracy.
“We don’t see the problem is harming our business, as we are still growing, however, we would not ignore its side effect on our business in the future.”
The Platinum Cineplex is going to launch another cinema branch next year or in 2015 in Phnom Penh – but the location is still a secret.
“Some other companies from Thailand and Vietnam have already confirmed to build cinemas in Phnom Penh, and we are doing it also,” he said. “I think the market can take up a lot more cinemas in the future, so we are still very optimistic about our business.”