Creating cinematic moments

Creating cinematic moments
Golden Village chief executive Clara Cheo.

SINGAPORE - Apart from pushing expansion and renewal plans, Golden Village's first female head, Clara Cheo, works to keep the cinema chain ahead of competitors

Up till the mid-1990s, the cinema business used to be straightforward: Line up films that people want to watch, run a few advertisements, then wait for the hordes to show up.

To grow earnings, operators simply opened more cinemas. Those days are no more.

Ms Clara Cheo, chief executive of Golden Village, Singapore's largest cinema chain, presides over a mature business in a mature industry, in which food and beverage sales and social media engagement are just as important to the bottom line as box-office revenue.

"It's not just about going to the movies. We also want to create memories for customers," says Ms Cheo, the first female head of the company and the first to rise to the top job from within.

And that is not only how she is different. The former accountant and mother of two is soft- spoken. She is nervous about our chat and keeps notes on hand as we talk. She has tough acts to follow, she thinks.

She comes after ebullient Golden Village heads such as Mr David Glass, who was profiled in this column in 2011. The Australian came up through sales and advertising and is an extrovert, the type not averse to making a cameo in a local comedy (Old Cow Vs Tender Grass, 2010) as an irate customer of the taxi driver played by Henry Thia.

Another former chief, Mr Kenneth Tan, is passionate about world cinema and is known for giving off-the-cuff speeches on the topic at film screenings.

"I'm really stepping out of my comfort zone with this interview," she says with a laugh. "But I told myself when I accepted this job that I would have to take on new challenges. I constantly tell our people to take on new challenges, so I have to walk the talk."

As she sees it, her job now is to keep Golden Village's No. 1 position in Singapore - it takes 42 per cent of box-office revenue here - and to make sure programmes of expansion and renewal her predecessors started are completed.

We are seated in the swanky lounge of the chain's newest cineplex, its 11th. The 1,390-seater GV Suntec, opened late last year, boasts eight auditoriums and three premium-seating Gold Class halls.

The new outlet's features tell the story of the cinema exhibition business today. For example, customers flash a smartphone QR code at an auto- gate to enter.

The company does not just compete with other operators, but also with pirated movies, other forms of entertainment and the time- starved lifestyles of Singaporeans.

To win over executives working in the Central Business District, the Suntec cineplex has a new, brighter 3-D projection system and state-of-the-art seats. Gold Class patrons have a menu that matches standards set by cafes in the area. Options include Breaded White Fish Loin and imported German beer.

At this and other cinemas, Golden Village executives plan theme parties, movie marathons and other events around films. For instance, female patrons were greeted by shirtless butlers at special screenings of male stripper drama Magic Mike (2012). For family screenings, parents are encouraged to bring babies in strollers.

Ms Cheo, the sixth head that Golden Village has had in its 22-year history here, fittingly turns 50 this year. Formerly the company's chief financial officer, she took over in March 2013 from Mr Kurt Rieder, an American, and speaks fondly about learning the ropes from, among others, Mr Rieder, Mr Glass and Mr Tan, the first Singaporean head and now the assistant chief executive (assessment) with the Media Development Authority.

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