Major Cineplex Group has entered into a 50/50 joint venture with South Korea's CJ 4DPlex, an independent subsidiary of CJ Group and the global initiator of four-dimensional cinema technology.
Vicha Poolvoraluck, chairman of Major Cineplex Group, said the company is converting one of its theatres at Paragon Cineplex, located on the fifth floor of Siam Paragon shopping complex, into Thailand's first 4D theatre, named 4DX, using CJ 4DPlex's state-of-the-art technology.
Andy Park, CEO of CJ 4DPlex, said 4DX represents the world's first type of cinema where commercial films are converged with sophisticated motion and environmental effects. Compared to ordinary 2D and 3D theatres, 4DX enables the audience to feel the on-screen action and "ultimately provides the most immersive movie-watching experience", he said.
In South Korea, 4DX performances exceed by at least 1.5 times the occupancy rates for films shown in regular cinemas.
CJ 4DPlex will also open its first programming lab for 4D cinemas in Los Angeles at the end of August. Many Hollywood studios have shown great interest in experiencing 4DX once this lab is established, Park said.
"With the opening of the 4DX programming lab, we believe this will be the start to further developing our business into the homeland of movies, the United States," he added.
With 13 4D screens in South Korea during the second year of operations, CJ 4DPlex has expanded its 4D cinemas via overseas joint ventures in China and Mexico. The company will also open another five 4DX theatres in South Korea by the end of this year.
Vicha said the Thai operation represented the third overseas JV for the Korean company. "We are always looking for something new and innovation for our customers," he added.
The company last month started a US$1.5-million (Bt45.7 million) reconstruction at Paragon Cineplex, converting one of the cinemas into a 4DX theatre.
The 180-seat auditorium will be officially opened on June 29, with the first blockbuster featuring in 4D being "Transformers: Dark of the Moon". Tickets will cost between Bt350 and Bt400.
"We are looking for a proactive expansion of 4DX theatres in strategic locations in Bangkok such as Pinklao, Rangsit and Bang Na, as well as in some major provinces such as Chiang Mai," Vicha said.
Major Cineplex also plans to increase the number of its digital theatres from 36 to about 100 by the end of the year. The overall number of theatres in the group will rise from 370 currently to about 385 in the same period, including at new locations such as Phitsanulok and Chon Buri.
"We also expect to have 200 digital theatres by 2012," said the company's chairman. Major Cineplex expects to operate 500 cinemas in total by the end of 2014, of which almost 80 per cent will be digital.
"We plan to invest between Bt600 million and Bt700 million next year to open another 40 theatre screens in five or six new locations," said Vicha.
Theodore TY Kim, CJ 4DPlex's vice president and chief operating officer, said the partnership with Major Cineplex is also in line with his company's strategy to expand its 4D theatres in potential markets around the world, including in the US, Latin America, China, Russia, Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia.
"We plan to open about 600 4D theatres in 12 major markets within the next three years. We are in discussion with more than 10 exhibitors about joint-venture possibilities to open 4D cinemas in their markets," he said.
Kim added that the global demand for 4D cinemas is currently expected to reach about 1,200, with the company planning to achieve such a total within the next seven to eight years. In South Korea alone, the demand for 4D theatres is expected to reach about 25.
"We are very happy to have Major Cineplex as our partner. Thailand is a very important market for us. We strongly believe 4DX will be a great success with the best innovator in the region," said Kim.
In South Korea, 4DX theatres have enjoyed 56-per-cent occupancy on average, which is much higher than two-dimensional cinemas, which have an occupancy rate of just 25 per cent.
"We expect the 4DX theatres to have a payback period of less than three years on average," he said.
CJ Group also owns CJ CGV, the largest multiplex cinema operator in South Korea. CJ CGV operates about 1,000 screens with a 54-per-cent share of the country's overall cinema market.