Facilitating the changing landscape of cinemas

Facilitating the changing landscape of cinemas

Watching movies is a popular mass entertainment in Hong Kong.  Cinemas in Hong Kong over recent decades have changed alongside the progress of technology.  Notably, they have shifted from single-screen film houses with an audience of thousands to multi-screen cinemas in shopping malls with an audience of hundreds.  In this article, we will talk about how the Government has actively engaged the trade in devising three measures that change the landscape of cinemas.

More flexible Design for Cinemas without Projector Room

The first measure concerns projector room in cinemas.  Due to the risk of fire and hazardous gas released from traditional film projection equipment, cinemas are required to maintain projectors and associated equipment in a separate room with a strict fire-resistance rating for all walls, floors and doors, and a smoke seal on every door, in accordance with the Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings (the Code).

When traditional film projection equipment has been displaced by modern digital projectors with a higher safety factor, it may no longer be necessary to isolate projectors in a fire-safe room. The industry thus called for relaxation of projector room regulations.  

The Business Liaison Group for Cinemas (BLG for cinemas), a discussion forum to strengthen communication between the trade and the Government, assisted the Buildings Department (BD) to release the Points to Note to facilitate the trade in applying for installation of digital projectors with no projector room in new or renovated cinemas.

In 2015, the trade submitted the first application under the new practice.  The application was swiftly approved by BD and the first cinema in Hong Kong without a projector room (commonly known as "booth-less projection" cinema) was opened in 2016.  

The most obvious benefit of this measure to the trade is the flexibility in layout design.  Cinemas can reclaim space for other purposes, such as additional screens or promotional activities, by dispensing with projector rooms.  For example, the cinema opened in 2016 divided one large film house into two smaller ones by applying “booth-less projection” design.  With more screens, movies can be flexibly shown to offer the audience a wider range of movie selection.  

The reduction in space of "booth-less projection" cinema is neatly in line with the trend of the industry in running small-sized cinemas.  The second measure below takes this business opportunity one step further.

More Site Choices for Smaller Cinemas

To protect public safety, the Code used to require the building housing a cinema must adjoin at least two thoroughfares for the evacuation of patrons and workers in case of fire.  Such requirement limits the choices of site for cinemas. 

The issue was discussed at cinema BLG meetings.  BD then conducted an assessment on fire safety for small-sized cinemas and came to the recommendation that the site of the building housing a cinema with an occupant capacity not more than 500 persons might be permitted to adjoin just one thoroughfare.  Since the recommendation was endorsed by the Technical Committee[1]  on the Code in end 2016, BD has exercised discretion in processing the applications. 

This measure provides the trade with more site choices for operating small-sized cinemas without compromising public safety.  It helps foster the development of the industry.    

Innovative Film Certificate Displays

The third measure concerns the display of the certificate of approval for films (“film certificate”).  Pursuant to the Film Censorship Ordinance, cinema operators are required to display in a conspicuous location near the entrance a film certificate (or legible photocopy thereof) for each film being exhibited at the cinema.

In the old days when only one or two films were shown in single-screen film houses for a given period, it was easy to comply with the above requirement.  However, the rise of multi-screen cinema complexes showing many different films at the same period means that a large number of film certificates are now required to be on display at any given time, which takes up a lot of space.  In addition, frequent movie updating poses burden to cinema operators in the display of film certificates for complying with the legal requirement. 

The trade raised this issue with the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (“OFNAA”) through the BLG for cinemas.  The OFNAA advised that they would accept the use of innovative space-saving display devices, such as electronic screens or tablets which could display film certificate copies in a legible manner at normal reading speed.

This measure is particularly beneficial to multi-screen cinemas with frequent film turnover, as it allows a tidier presentation of multiple film certificate copies and, where new technology has been applied, easier maintenance of the overall display.

As the trade and the Government continue to work together to ride on emerging technology in creating a more business-friendly environment for cinemas, audiences can expect more changes ahead.

[1]    The Technical Committee is composed of representatives from relevant government departments, professional bodies, practitioners and academia.