SM MALL of Asia’s (MOA) cinemas have been relaunched after months of renovations, increasing screens but keeping the same number of seats in a preview of what cinemas under the SM chain would turn into.

The 16 new cinemas are housed in a complex at the mall’s Entertainment mall section and include 11 regular cinemas, one IMAX screen, three Director’s Club screens, and one event cinema. This is an increase in the number of screens from the previous 10 screens: six regular cinemas, one Director’s Club, one IMAX screen, one Premier Cinema, and the Centerstage event cinema.

Despite the increase in the number of screens, the number of total seats remained the same as the company opted to build smaller capacity theaters to better fit what customers prefer.

“The regular cinemas usually house 400 to 500 seats which is actually too big, plus it can only house one movie so if you have too many blockbusters [it won’t fit in the number of screens]. So if you cut [the seats in half], you can service two movies at once,” Ruby Ann Reyes, SM Cinema Vice-President for marketing, told BusinessWorld during the launch on Jan. 24.

“The Filipino audience is not a quiet audience to begin with. If you have a 400-seat capacity, it’s too noisy and the people will not be able to enjoy the film anymore unlike in 144-seaters,” she added.

She said that having smaller theaters make the viewing experience “more intimate,” adding that the smallest cinema seating capacity at SM MOA is 80 while the biggest is 144.

“It’s more personal to the moviegoer — the screen is closer — plus it’s not so big anymore and the legroom is bigger right now,” she explained.

The smaller seating capacity allowed the company to install Opus Glide semi-recliner spectator seats which allow viewers in regular cinemas to recline for a more comfortable experience. The more premium Director’s Club cinemas meanwhile will have Verona full-recliner leather seats.

The screens also got a laser projection upgrade, with the regular cinemas having Standard 7.1 Surround Sound setup and RGB Laser Projection system, while the Director’s Club also has laser projection coupled with the Dolby Atmos Surround Sound system.

Aside from the renovation of SM Mall of Asia cinemas — which is the company’s largest cinema complex — cinemas at SM Olongapo and SM Fairview were also overhauled last year, and refurbished SM Southmall cinemas opening by the end of the month and SM Sta. Mesa’s opening by April.

Ms. Reyes said there are plans to renovate SM Baguio, SM North EDSA, and SM Megamall within the year.

“We are heavy with the expansion of new cinemas in the provincial areas,” she said, noting that plans are underway to renovate cinemas in Pampanga, among other provincial sites.

The aggressive pace of renovation is an indication that alternative viewing experiences like streaming services have not dampened the Filipino appetite for movie viewing, said Ms. Reyes.

“Filipinos go to the cinemas as a group in the Philippines… [there’s] also that concept of ‘fear of missing out,’ so people would rather watch their favorite films first in the cinemas than wait months for it to drop to other platforms,” she explained before adding that SM Cinemas add to the moviegoing experience by putting up film installations and activities. — Zsarlene B. Chua