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Theater Manager: Demand for Training Programs Rises

2013-04-07 14:34:29        China Daily

Yin Gang is proud of the contributions his company, Cine Asia (Shanghai) Ltd, has made to the movie industry.

His source of pride doesn't come from the establishment of theaters, but from the professionals his theater solutions and services consultancy has specifically trained to run them.

Yin has established a wide network of human resources throughout Chinese movie theaters, cultivating and training many of the industry's managers over the past decade.

"From the very beginning, our services included management training in response to our clients' demands because they had difficulty recruiting qualified employees," said Yin, president of Cine Asia.

His timing couldn't be better.

Box office receipts on the Chinese mainland exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.61 billion) in 2010. Many experts called the explosive increase in ticket sales and the number of screens a sign of great times for the silver screen industry.

But over the last two years, the increasing shortage of theater managers has led to huge demand for training programs.

The discrepancy between supply and demand led Chen Guowei, former China president of Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment (Holdings) Ltd and former vice-general manager of Wanda Cinema Line, China's largest theater chain by box office revenue, to establish Guowei Management Training Institution in 2010.

Having worked in the sector for 20 years, Chen aims to contribute to the industry's development by reducing that gap. His training system offers four kinds of courses — general theater management, film marketing, theater operations and general skills.

So far, his company has held theater management training programs for about 10 terms and has built partnerships with a dozen institutions, including the radio, film and TV bureau of Hunan province and China Film Stellar Theater Chain.

"Most of our trainees are senior managers from various theater chains," said Li Yunling, a lecturer of ticketing operations and box office management at Guowei. She had worked in operations for five years at Wanda Cinema Line, China's largest theater chain by box office revenue, and helped the company drive ticket sales.

Shen Li, vice-general manager of Stellar International Cinemas Management Co Ltd's East China business, said, "I learned many things from Chen's training program, such as online ticket sales and marketing trends."

He attended the two-day training course on electronic marketing at Guowei in November. The course covered topics including online marketing, such as using WeChat, a mobile communications application by Tencent, and micro-blogs.

"We develop customized courses according to our clients' needs and invite experts or experienced professionals to give lessons," said Chen.

Unlike Guowei, some film or theater companies offer in-house training to their employees.

"About 60 percent of our theater managers come from our own talent pool," said Wu Bing, training manager at Wanda Cinema Line.

The company has attached great importance to internal personnel training, Wu said, adding it has established a comprehensive system that ranges from orientation to on-the-job training.

"Our program covers professional skills and management training, and our lecturers are experts from different business departments at our headquarters," Wu said.

The reserve of theater managers puts Wanda in a better position, especially as competition for qualified professionals increases, he added.

"By integrating internal personnel training with external recruitment, we have no problems placing qualified managers to newly opened theaters," said Wu.

Cao Xiaojing, a data research specialist at Wanda Cinema Line, said, "For external recruitment, we prefer those who have worked for hospitality or catering chain companies, because they have received some form of standardized training."

Wanda opened 29 movie theaters on the Chinese mainland last year, and by the end of 2012, it had a total of 115 theaters in operation. The theater giant aims to increase that figure to 200 by 2015, which would put the company's market share at more than 20 percent.

Other theater companies have also started in-house training programs, such as China Film Stellar Theater Chain, which launched its "M Plan" training project in 2011.

Cai Ling, a cultural industry researcher at the Shenzhen-based CIC Industry Research Center, said: "Third-party training programs provided by industry veterans are currently not an effective solution to the shortage and poor performance of theater managers.

"That's because the target audience for these programs is rather small, which has a limited effect in dealing with the problem. In addition, the courses are not systematic or thorough, making it difficult for trainees to digest the material."

Chen from Guowei said that the two tallest hurdles he encountered when establishing his training agency was putting together an organized curriculum and the shortage of lecturers.

University professors are unqualified to give lectures on theater management because they don't have practical experience, while industry veterans lack theoretical knowledge and teaching experience, he said.

For Wanda, they are plagued by other problems.

"Our managers are always the first choice for poaching because they excel in experience and work efficiency," Wu said.

"They're often offered a higher position and a salary several times more than the market average," he said.

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