With domestic box-office admissions forecast to be as high as 12 million this year, UAE cinema chains are looking to markets such as Lebanon, Egypt and Qatar for future growth.
Cinemas cast abroad after blockbuster home growth
Cinema chains in the Emirates are looking to expand overseas after years of blockbuster growth at home.
With domestic box-office admissions forecast to be as high as 12 million this year, UAE operators are looking to markets such as Lebanon, Egypt and Qatar for future growth.
Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of VOX Cinemas, said the chain planned to expand overseas with the launch of a branch in Beirut, as well as boosting its presence in the UAE.
"VOX Fujairah City Centre and VOX Beirut City Centre will be the next locations to open, with other opportunities to be announced in the coming months," he said.
VOX, which is part of Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas, currently operates 50 screens in five cinemas in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ajman.
Mr Mitchell said last year VOX intended to double its screen count over the next few years - and this month he confirmed this ambition still stands.
"We are expanding," he said.
Other UAE cinema chains have also said they were launching in new markets.
Grand Cinemas, based in Dubai, has said that it plans a regional expansion plan worth up to US$50 million (Dh183.6m), which includes a new multiplex in Doha scheduled to open this year.
Reel Cinemas, which has operations at Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina Mall, said last year it planned to double its screen count by mid-2014. It said it was looking at markets such as Egypt and Turkey, as the market in Dubai was approaching saturation.
Reel Cinemas is owned and managed by Emaar Retail, a unit of Emaar, a property developer based in Dubai. A representative of Emaar Retail said the company would "continue to explore potential growth opportunities" for Reel Cinemas in the key markets in which Emaar operated.
Total box-office takings in the Arab world stands at about $100m a year, according to the Arab Media Outlook published in April in collaboration with the Dubai Press Club and Deloitte.
However, the availability of cinema screens "varies quite dramatically" among different Arab countries. In the UAE there are 39 cinema screens per million inhabitants compared with just six in Oman and five in Egypt, the report noted.
The United States has 127 cinema screens per million of its population, while the United Kingdom has 60 per million.
Santino Saguto, a partner at Deloitte Middle East, said there was a demand for new cinemas across the Arabian Gulf.
"In most GCC countries the number of movie theatres … is much lower than global standards, despite high demand," he said. "The trend of opening new theatres reflects the need of addressing under-served markets and untapped needs."
The international expansion plans of local cinema chains comes amid stellar growth in box-office admissions in the UAE.
According to the film distributor Italia Film, there were 11 million cinema admissions in the UAE last year, up from just 2 million in 2002.
Mr Mitchell said UAE ticket sales were likely to rise this year over last year. "I'd expect the industry will grow in admissions this year by up to 10 per cent."
That would boost the total admissions this year to above 12 million, based on the Italia Film figures.
Despite this, the annual lull in box-office admissions during Ramadan is expected to be more pronounced this year.
John Chahine, the general manager of the UAE branch of Italia Film, said he expected a "70 per cent loss" in box-office takings during Ramadan compared with the rest of the year.
Jean Ramia, the chief executive of Grand Cinemas, said a decline in ticket sales was inevitable during Ramadan. This is partly because people are busy seeing their family and friends at traditional iftar meals.
"For … Ramadan people tend more to go to tents, to iftars. When you get invited … out of respect, you have to attend every iftar if you can," he said.
Another factor in the decline in box-office takings during Ramadan is the popularity of Arabic soap operas on TV at a time when the release of major films such as The Dark Knight Riseswas delayed until Eid, said Mr Ramia.
"TV takes advantage of when the distributors are not releasing their blockbuster movies," he said.
Cinema tickets cost relatively little in the UAE compared with more developed markets.
"Cinema is very affordable in this market," said Mr Mitchell.
"Dh35 is our basic ticket price … If you look at the UK and other markets, they're up at the $15 to $20 mark per ticket."
iPad users can read the digital edition of business section as it was printed via our e-reader app. Click here