By Jason Kornfeld
Already one of the world’s top-five multiplex theater companies, CJ CGV opened its flagship U.S. location in Buena Park, California, at the new The Source OC shopping center in January.
With a large global presence operating 2,877 screens in 376 locations in seven countries, a stronger footprint in the U.S. seemed like a logical next step.
“CGV feels very strongly that the emerging Asian market has been here for a while,” said Paul Richardson, chief operating officer of CJ CGV Americas, who joined the company in December 2016. “Truthfully we’d like to be further along than we are now, and bringing me on board is part of energizing that.”
While CJ CGV already had a smaller location in Koreatown, Los Angeles, the Buena Park location marks the first chance for the U.S. market to experience the company’s “Cultureplex” concept.
“Cultureplex,” which is a staple of CJ CGV sites worldwide, looks at a movie theater as a total and immersive cultural experience. CJ CGV aims to attract moviegoers from all generations, though strong Asian communities are the focal point.
Using their international experience, CJ CGV says they wanted to be strategic in entering an already mature U.S. market. Buena Park, with its significant Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese communities, was targeted.
“That location specifically was picked because of that 360-degree ring around there of strong Asian communities,” Richardson said. “That’s the niche we are aiming at in the U.S., [which] is a very mature [and] overbuilt market.”
Even though the Asian community is their niche, CJ CGV says they hope their state-of-the-art facility is attractive to all moviegoers. Films are played with Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin subtitles, which CJ CGV hopes is not a deterrent.
“Our plan is to cater to both worlds [because] we need everyday moviegoers [too],” Richardson said. “We haven’t gotten negative feedback about the subtitles, and I think part of it is [because] the experience in the facility is a nice one.”
CGV Cinemas Buena Park will also be the first location where the industry’s leading immersive cinema technologies, 4DX and ScreenX, are both available at one U.S. theater complex. In addition to these formats, moviegoers can enjoy Premium Cinema, which offers dine-in service, recliners, and cell phone chargers.
4DX, which was created by sister company CJ 4DPLEX in 2009, features motion seats that move in six different directions in addition to 20 environmental effects such as fog, wind, lightning, bubbles, and scents. CGV Cinemas Buena Park is the fifth U.S. location featuring the technology.
ScreenX, which was created by CJ CGV in 2012, is the world’s first 270-degree multi-projection system for movie theaters. CGV Cinemas Buena Park is the third location in the U.S. where ScreenX is available.
CJ CGV developed a “3S” concept of sound, seat, and screen to bring moviegoers a total immersive experience. With 4DX, the technology was already in the marketplace, but CJ CGV brought it to the cinema world.
“We believe this 3S concept is the basis for Cultureplex,” said Brandon Choi, COO of CJ 4DPLEX Americas. “We have to be providing our innovation concept to the audience from a technology standpoint.”
As of March 2017, there are 370 4DX auditoriums in 47 countries and 107 ScreenX auditoriums in four countries. Though both formats are growing in popularity, currently 4DX and ScreenX cannot be experienced at the same time.
“We are thinking of putting [them] together but we don’t want to give [moviegoers] too much,” Choi said. “We are researching, but from a technology standpoint it is separate with a separate business model.”
CGV Cinemas Buena Park has a bar serving beer, wine, and special cocktails, as well as gourmet snacks. They also have a Popcorn Factory, which sells Popcornoplis products and CGV’s signature popcorn flavors like caramel, as well as sour cream and onion.
Richardson, who served as president and CEO at Sundance Cinemas as well as Landmark Theaters earlier in his career, makes sure every detail, from theater design to customer service, is paid attention to.
“The theaters are beautiful, and we really care about the customer experience, [even if] it’s how to pop the popcorn,” he said. “They [even] have CGV University where they teach you how to pour soda.”
The technology side of the theater is also a priority for CJ CGV.
“What I find gratifying is how much attention is paid to technical aspects, [because with] U.S. exhibitors it’s hit and miss with how much care goes into the screen,” Richardson said. “Every millimeter of that [screen] border is debated—how much light on the screen is debated, how much sound is debated. We take great pride in the presentation.”
For Richardson, his first priority is making sure Buena Park succeeds, but he has his eye on other U.S. locations, too.
“My task was to get Buena Park open and functioning,” Richardson said. “[Then I can] go out and scout the rest of the country to find the right opportunities that fit our niche.”
With trends pointing to smaller movie theaters with more amenities, Richardson sees CGV Cinemas Buena Park as an example of things to come.
“I think it is the wave of the future because the industry is being more fractured,” Richardson said. “People are going to nicer theaters. I think that’s going to continue and it’s how we’re going to differentiate ourselves.”