Ster-Kinekor is considering a range of strategies to get people back to the cinema, including the introduction of movie passes and screening e-sports.
This is according to Mark Sardi, the CEO of Ster-Kinekor, Africa's largest cinema company, which has more than 60% of South Africa's market share.
Sardi told News24 the cinema industry was experiencing a bumpy time in South Africa because attendance was still substantially below pre-pandemic levels. This was due to a lack of Hollywood blockbusters, load shedding and "franchise fatigue".
Sardi said attendance at Ster-Kinekor was below 50%, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Ster-Kinekor entered voluntary business rescue in January 2021 because public gatherings were restricted and there was not much content that could be displayed.
The company was thrown a lifeline late in 2022 when a R250-million investment from asset managers in the UK and Cape Town brought it out of business rescue and saved 800 jobs in the process.
Now, the challenge was for Ster-Kinekor to remind people of the primacy of the format to get them back to the cinema.
Sardi said the cinema was an "immersive experience" that "couldn't be replicated elsewhere".
There are very few people on earth who could say 'what was the first streaming movie or series I watched', but I guarantee you remember your first movie. It is an immersive experience. It is the place where magic happens – where sweaty palms meet each other on the first date.
The operating environment remained challenging for cinemas, argued Sardi, but Ster-Kinekor was repositioning the company to be an "entertainment business", rather than just a cinema business. As such, it was considering certain innovations to get movie-goers back to the cinema.
What other forms of entertainment can you put in these massive boxes that we have?
Here are three innovations being considered by Ster-Kinekor:
Sardi said Ster-Kinekor was looking to screen e-gaming to get the younger generation to come to the cinema.
"Is there a world in which we can populate certain of our cinemas with kids who want to further their gaming or coding expertise?
"There are kids who take this as a real sport, so how do we grow the industry of e-gamers here?"
He said schools could come to the cinema on a Wednesday when occupancy was low to "watch world-class gamers and coders doing their thing".
"I don't mind if we make no money out of it. We just want to remind people that the cinema is there and there is no amount of streaming in the world that is going to substitute for that."
Sardi said Ster-Kinekor could treat some of the streamers as friends by building partnerships to feature some series content at the cinema.
He said first series screening was "an important niche".
"Working with the likes of Apple and Amazon – they are your friends they are not your enemies."
He said it could provide more traffic to Ster-Kinekor and would boost retention via a streaming series, if the first episode was displayed in the cinema.
"To the extent that you can have Game of Thrones, Series 11, Episode 1 screened on the big screen first, and there would be greater retention on the streaming platform."
Cinema passes are also under consideration.
We are looking at things like movie passes – so you pay an amount of money and you can go as often as you like.
"We firmly believe that movie going begets movie going... so, the more you go, the more you will continue to go."