The UK’s largest cinema operator, Odeon, has been reported to have altered its reopening schedule as the return to normality continues to be hindered by both coronavirus spikes and the delaying of major film releases.
As reported by entertainment news website Deadline, Odeon began its reopenings on July 4th, when 10 sites were brought back to life. A further plan was in place to open another 88 venues by the end of the month, but it now seems that this decision has been reversed, with only around 10 expected to open instead.
Given the forced nature of the closures, you would be forgiven for thinking that all cinema venues would be eager to open at the first available opportunity, but there is a very good reason why Odeon hasn’t rushed to reopen all of its sites, just as Cineworld hasn’t either. A cinema is part of a much bigger wheel and without the big crowd pulling movies to put on show, there is little incentive to attract those all important audiences in.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented a difficult situation for the big film houses, as none of them want to risk having a big budget movie flop. Whilst in the current circumstances, it is understandable that a film may not do as well as it may have done in pre-COVID times, that provides little comfort to the investors and to the overall movie figures, which will be ingrained in entertainment history for ever more.
Two big movies which have reportedly pushed back their launch dates to mid August are Warner Bros’ Tenet and Disney’s Mulan, but even these dates are speculative, as further spikes in cases in the US could cause further delays and it is standard practice for the US movie market to lead with first releases.
Given that figures show less than 1 in 10 cinema venues in the UK opened since July 4th, it is no surprise that sales equated to little over $150k. This is to be expected though, as both staff and customers are adapting to the new ‘normal’ when it comes to the cinematic experience.
Strict health and safety policies are in place, alongside measures to reduce the numbers of visitors and their use of key facilities whilst inside the venue. In addition, there is obviously the risk that should a staff member test positive for the virus, the entire venue would need to be closed for a deep clean and all patrons who have visited in recent days would need to be contacted, with advice to self isolate. Such uncertainty does not provide encouragement to those who are desperately wanting to return to cinema but are naturally worried about the risks.
By far the biggest blow for the cinema industry would be a second wave, or a scattering of continued localized spikes which would put a stop to returning to any kind of normality for more than a few short weeks at a time. All venues rely on the attraction of the big name movies, of which there are only a handful released each year. The launch dates are timed with precision, to capitalize on holidays, anniversaries, weather and more. It is not always that easy to reschedule to a time which works as well, and so films may find they have to take the hit and make do with lower box office figures. What other option do they have?
Well, should we face another national lockdown, they could take the road that Trolls World Tour did by releasing their latest addition online. This move at the time drew much criticism from cinemas, who were relying on the movie to be one of their big crowd pleasers. The success of the Trolls World Tour release highlighted whether this route could become a viable distribution strategy, effectively bypassing the cinemas entirely. Such a transition could be catastrophic to the cinema sector, but many feel that it is unlikely to pose a significant risk, at least for the foreseeable future.
There is much to be said for the whole cinema experience, for a start it simply cannot be created in your own living room. Whether it is a family trip out, a romantic date night, or a time for friends to catch up and spend time together, it is a much of a social activity as it is the consumption of a particular movie. The move to stagger cinema reopenings may seem to stem from trouble, but in reality, it is a slow and steady return which will help to keep costs, staffing and the safety of customers in check, whilst weighing up the commercial benefits of opening its doors at a particular point in time. It’s not an ideal situation for anyone, and most cinema venues would agree that their ultimate aim is to return to full capacity as it once was. But in the face of a global health crisis returning to normal is simply not possible. It would seem that expecting the unexpected must now form part of any recovery strategy, including that of cinema venues.