Korean Cinemas Test Contact-Free Tech for the Post-Coronavirus Era
Art and Experience: Contact-free technology is being deployed at many of South Korea’s multiplexes as theater chains attempt to define a new normal in the post-coronavirus era.
The country’s number one exhibition player CJ-CGV turned its Yeouido branch into a completely contactless, “untact” in local jargon, theater in April.
To accommodate local audiences’ growing fear of physical contact with strangers, including cinema staff, the exhibitor giant replaced its human staff with AI robots, automated kiosks and mobile app services. Cinemagoers no longer need to encounter a human staff member to reserve, pick up, or scan their tickets. Snack bars have been replaced with LED-controlled pick-up boxes which deliver food items ordered through CGV’s app.
“It is predicted that moviegoers’ demand for un-tact [services in cinema] will also grow as a part of the new normal,” said Oh Dae-sik, head of CJ CGV’s smart innovation team. “We will monitor feedback from visitors and operations, and consider expanding the un-tact cinema system, which is expected to enhance the level of convenience for our customers as well as the efficiency of cinema operation.”
Another leading exhibitor Lotte Cinema also adopted un-tact services in 22 of its 130 complexes in late April. Visitors can reserve, change and pick up tickets as well as order snacks on smart kiosks with voice-recognition systems. To purchase tickets for films that are not allowed for certain age groups, audiences may need to scan their ID cards.
According to the Korean Film Council, box office that was on the slide since February, turned a corner in the third weekend of April. That was when Korea held its general election and had a temporary national holiday. But the numbers are still pitiful.
Weekend box office is currently running at 5% of 2019 levels. Major releases of local and foreign movies have been pushed back, and for now cinemas are largely relying on smaller films and re-releases.
Woody Allen’s romantic comedy “Rainy Day in New York” opened on Wednesday and landed on top, earning $344,000 from 46,700 admissions over five five days. UPI’s “Trolls World Tour” slipped to second place in its second weekend. The animated feature earned $126,000 between Friday and Sunday for a total of $750,000 after two weekends.