Katrina Kaif and Ali Zafar attend a recent premier at the Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi. Numbers from Euromonitor International suggest that last year local multiplexes — the number of screens totalled 284 — pulled in almost 15 million visitors. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: M. M. Kabeer’s interest in the movies does not end with enjoying them. Instead he goes the extra mile by building single-screen cinemas and, more so these days, multiplexes.

The CEO of Oscar Cinemas has just lifted the curtain on a seven-screen multiplex that will open the tills later this year. It forms part of the Al Shaab Village Mall in Sharjah. “The location is what interested us right from the beginning, being halfway between Sharjah and Ajman,” said Kabeer. “Cinema screens in the UAE have so far tended to be in high-density locations and there are few of them in less easily accessible locations. However, road networks into the northern emirates are improving and that improves the viability for cinemas in non-Tier A locations.”

Oscar Cinemas operate 18 screens in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, including having the management of the popular Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi. It has also been looking at enquries coming in from Oman and Qatar to launch a presence there.

Boom phase for multiplexes

The last five years have been a boom phase for multiplex operators in the UAE. The Majid Al Futtaim Group owned Vox Cinemas and Grand Cinemas have a lock on a major share of the market with new openings and helped on by the merging of the retail and entertainment aspect of living in the UAE. A top official at Vox Cinemas recently confirmed that last year saw a 20 per cent growth in the footfall at local cinemas, and that another double-digit uptick is what is expected this year.

That just about every Bollwyood blockbuster has its initial screenings in Dubai — with the stars making more than just a token appearance — has been good for business. Also, the gap between a Hollywood blockbuster’s release in the US and here has narrowed considerably. For UAE’s residents, a trip to the cinemas is very much a part of their weekly whirl of activities.

Numbers from Euromonitor International suggest that last year local multiplexes — the number of screens totalled 284 — pulled in just under 15 million visitors. Also, it reckons that the local per capita average for a trip to the cinema is 1.7.

“Attendance at the cinemas have been on the rise, but so have the costs for the multiplex operator,” said Kabeer. “The base ticket prices (of between Dh35 to Dh50) are set by the local authorities and the time may soon come when cinema operators have to pitch for a review of the rates. That request can only be made by all the operators — it may not happen this year, but should in the short-term future. Meantime, operators are also pushing for higher viewer acceptance of 7D and 4DX viewing experiences.”

But multiplex operators have some leeway on pricing for the top end of the seating arrangements. “For the Pearl Suite, where you have all the trappings you need for ultra-comfortable viewing, the pricing can be Dh100 to Dh150, though a location in Sharjah could be had for Dh75,” said Kabeer. “A lot, of course, depends on the demographic within that location.”