Will pent-up demand revive?KANG HYE-RAN
The author is a deputy editor of the popular culture team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
As a reporter covering films and cultural properties, I fear opening my inbox every morning. All I get are emails notifying postponements, cancellations and closings. So far, 101 movies have opened in February. While it is a leap year, with 29 days this month, the number of movie openings is likely to be less than last year’s 114. It is expected to be the least since 2016’s 106 for February.
The audience numbers are devastating. According to the Korean Film Council, less than 80,000 tickets were sold on Feb. 24 and 25 respectively. That’s less than one-fifth of 340,000 tickets sold on Feb. 25, 2019, a Monday. It’s the lowest since 2011.
The number even is devastating compared to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2015. The number of viewers decreased to 44 percent of the previous year for 10 days after the first death. For the month of June, the number of viewers dropped 10 percent from the previous year. But only 6.88 million people watched movies in February, until the 25th as the new coronavirus (dubbed Covid-19 by the World Health Organization) began to spread. It is a record low since the 9.2 million in April 2014, when the Sewol ferry accident took place.
Theaters and distributors are adjusting to the safety psychology of the public. CJ Entertainment had announced a black-and-white version of “Parasite,” which won four Oscars, but postponed the release. As no new films are opening, major movie theaters like CGV have made the schedules more flexible, removing early morning and late night show times. The list of cancellations and postponements is getting long for theater productions as well.
The cultural industry is shutting down preemptively. An employee of PMC Production said the theater exclusively showing Nanta performances is to close until March 8, to avoid suffering greater damage by trying to save a few million won. Such preemptive responses must come from experience.
There is more wisdom to be gained from the experiences. According to the statistics of ticket reservation site Interpark, sales revenue in musical theater fell by more than 20 percent in June and July 2015 — at the time of the MERS outbreak — from the same period in the previous year, and it went up by 8 percent in August from the previous year as the crisis settled. Pent-up demand may have bounced back as taught in consumer psychology. Depending on who prepares for the future and how, the winner of the war against Covid-19 will be determined.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 27, Page 28