As crowds shrink, movie theaters turn to showing live concerts, ballet

by Satoshi Toi

Kyodo

Theater operators are looking for new ways to use their facilities as they struggle to survive the decline in cinemagoers.

Aeon Entertainment Co., which operates 74 Aeon Cinema movie theater complexes in 30 of the 47 prefectures, screened nonconventional movies 119 times in the 2012 business year, about twice as many as the previous year. The subjects of the films ranged from music concerts and overseas ballet and opera performances to sports events.

The Aeon Cinema Kohoku New Town complex in Yokohama was jam-packed when it recently hosted a live concert broadcast of the Southern All Stars, one of Japan’s top bands.

It was “convenient and inexpensive,” said Susumu Sato, a 57-year-old company employee living near the complex, noting that the price of admission was less than half that of a concert ticket.

As a 30-year fan of the band, though, Sato conceded that “the sense of togetherness” between the band and its fans was not the same as at an actual concert.

Behind the diversifying use of movie theaters are advances in digitization, said Yoshito Oyama, head of the marketing department at Aeon Entertainment.

The use of Aeon Cinema complexes will be expanded to culture, education and other fields to “revive movie theaters’ past role” as local stages for enjoying performances, Oyama added.

In fact, nonmovie events at the complexes include picture-book reading sessions for mothers and children and filmed performances of “rakugo,” Japan’s traditional comic storytellers.

Incom Co., an image content production company in Tokyo, holds a breakfast school for businesspeople at a movie theater. Participants in the “School by Film Method” program learn marketing and other business skills from experts while watching documentaries and data on the big screen.

A 30-minute session on a theme is held every morning before businesspeople go to the office. Participants are charged ¥5,500 for each session, which includes breakfast.

In October Incom will expand the program to cover hobbies for senior citizens, such as travel and pottery.

It also plans to launch afternoon lessons for children at its complexes in large suburban shopping centers next year in the hope of attracting mothers with young children.

“We would like to attract a wide range of people by offering attractive image contents,” Incom President Jun Tsutsui said. The company will promote tie-ups with businesses related to its digital contents in a bid to “revitalize movie theaters across the country.”