Karaoke firms think inside the box with new-release films, language classes


Karaoke establishments around the country today are not just places for singing in a group — they are increasingly for watching films, holding children’s parties or for solo-crooning sessions.

Karaoke operators are offering a slew of new services that leverage their private rooms and attract new customers as the industry is expected to shrink in the face of the nation’s aging population.

Valic Co., which operates 175 Cote D’azur-branded karaoke houses nationwide, started an experimental service at some locations last September dubbed Cinekara, making available recently released films for their customers to watch.

The Yokohama-based company expanded the service to 27 establishments in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka prefectures in late January and even aims to increase the number to over 150 in three years.

“We are seeking to offer our customers new types of leisure activities by integrating cinema into karaoke,” Valic President Yusuke Nakabayashi said.

Specifically, customers have a one-month period to watch a movie in a karaoke venue, about 13 weeks after its cinema release but before it is released on DVD.

Valic’s partner, Warner Entertainment Japan Inc., expects the service to increase engagement and drive revenue in the movie industry.

Newton Corp., meanwhile, is introducing a daytime service at its karaoke locations, targeting mothers with small children.

Newton runs about 30 karaoke businesses called Pasela in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures.

“Mothers can feel relaxed and don’t need to worry about their children causing inconvenience to other guests because they are in a private room,” a Newton public relations official said.

The Tokyo-based company said it launched the service in a bid to boost daytime business as most of its customers come to sing in the evening.

Another karaoke operator, Koshidaka Co., has opened new facilities called one-kara for customers who want to impersonate their favorite singer all on their lonesome.

Koshidaka said it opened the establishments based on a survey that found about 20 percent of customers came to the karaoke rooms to sing alone.

At about 10 one-kara shops, mostly in Tokyo, professional-grade microphones and headphones are available for guests, allowing them to listen to their voice and the music at the same time. Customers can also play instruments in the soundproof rooms.

Last September, Koshidaka also started an English conversation class inside its karaoke rooms using the Skype Internet phone service.

“Our efforts have apparently paid off as our revenues and the number of customers have been growing,” a Koshidaka public relations official said.