Dubai: Between ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’, there was enough happening to keep the UAE’s box-office buzzing in 2022. Superheroes in their various forms continued to dominate ticket sales, but there were also a slate of more serious-minded movies that wowed UAE audiences. In short, another good year for cinema - and cinema screens - in the UAE.
It is into this mix that one of the biggest names in the business of cinema viewing comes into sharper focus. Cinepolis Cinemas - the third largest movie exhibitor in the world - has signed up to manage a new 10-screen multiplex in Deira, at the ‘Deira Enrichment Project’ to be precise, in a deal signed with Ithra Dubai, the master-developer. (The Deira Enrichment Project seeks a wholesale transformation of one of Dubai’s legacy districts, all the way from the Corniche. Some of the elements of the Project, such as the Gold Souk Extension, have already taken their spots.)
In an interview, Alejandro Aguilera, CEO of Cinépolis Cinemas, talks about how he intends to make those 10 screens a compelling watch for UAE’s audiences when they open in Q1-2024.
Dubai already has one of the highest number of cinema screens as a percentage of its population. How soon do you reckon your new cinema will start getting the desired numbers?
Dubai is unique in the sense that it is a city that continues to grow with upcoming residential and tourist areas. So, there is always room for new cineplexes that house 8-10 screens. The key is to identify who your market is and offer them a product that appeals to them.
Cinépolis Cinemas constantly aims to differentiate by bringing new designs, such as our Macro XE or Junior Auditorium, along with the latest technology in each of our locations.
Do you operate and own most of the screens? Or will it be just managing them?
Each location is different. As part of our expansion, we have explored different deals. When we entered the Gulf region, we started by making the initial investment in our cinemas. As we have expanded, we entered different deals.
In the case of Ithra Dubai (for Deira Enrichment Project), we reached an agreement to operate and manage the location.
How’s your Saudi operation faring?
We decided to enter the market a few years ago and partnered with Abdulmohsin Al Hokair Group. Today, we have four locations across Jeddah, Dammam, and Jizan. With our new luxury cinema at Al Massarah, Jeddah, we have a particular mix of traditional and luxury screens serving different demographics across the Kingdom.
Across your global network, do you own most of the screens?
Cinépolis operates 6,727 screens globally. Over 60 per cent of the screens are in Mexico, where we own most of those screens. As we have expanded internationally, we introduce the management model.
At your first Dubai location, do you plan to offer other options apart from cinema viewing? Like being the destination for high-profile events, etc?
We are always looking to offer new experiences for our customers. With digital projection we can a variety of alternative content, such as live concerts or sports, in addition to movies from across the world.
Our first location in Deira with Ithra Dubai is strategically placed in an up-and-coming hub, which opens the doors to a multitude of entertainment options ranging from, our large screen format, Macro XE, ideal to host big events, to an outdoor cinema on the rooftop of the mall.
For the UAE, do you have a JV?
When the company decided to enter the region, we knew the importance of finding the right partner. We created a JV with Al Tayer Group.
Do you reckon that the Gulf will be among the few regions still recording growth at the box office?
Although the cinema industry is still recovering from the pandemic, we are optimistic that the Gulf will continue to grow. This market is unique, as we can find movies from both Hollywood and Bollywood, but also regional content. We have seen tremendous results from Egyptian, and now we expect to see new releases coming from Saudi studios aiming to attract new audiences.
You are already there in India - what about the Far East?
Cinépolis already has a presence in India and Indonesia. In India, we operate over 323 screens, and we are amongst the largest operators in the country. In Indonesia we operate over 317 screens.
In the Gulf, any other markets you are looking at?
We are currently operating in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain. At the moment, we are looking to consolidate our presence in these countries as we expect to announce some new projects.
And your thoughts on how the box-office shaped up in 2022?
With the releases of movies like ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, ‘Minions’, ‘Bahebek’, and ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’, 2022 proved to everyone that the cinema is back.
The movie line-up for 2023 looks promising. With titles such as ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse’, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3’, ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’, and many others, we are hoping for more people to come back to the cinemas.