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Cinemas start to gear up for their reopening

Fewer patrons in cinemas, staggered screening times in complexes, online ticket sales only and no food may all be on the cards when movie-lovers go back.


Image via Adobe Stock

It’s still awaiting the finer detail following the President’s announcement last week that cinemas will reopen following revisions to the Alert Level 3 lockdown regulations, but South Africa’s cinema industry has welcomed the confirmation and is gearing up for reopening.

What seems likely, though, is that there will be fewer patrons in a cinema, screening times will be staggered in complexes with multiple screens, ticket sales will be online only, and food will not be sold. Similar measures are already in place in countries where cinemas have been allowed to reopen.

Yes, but can we eat popcorn at the movies?

What, no popcorn at the movies? That would certainly dent cinema profits, given the snacks’ widespread popularity and significant mark-up.

In Australia, where cinemas are starting to reopen this week, Time Out entertainment magazine estimates that the average markup on popcorn bought in an Aussie cinema is 1,275%.

Some cinemas Down Under are even considering whether it is viable to open, given that social distancing measures mean some outlets will have to leave 65% of their seats vacant.

“Cinemas will need to assess if they can actually afford to operate at a significantly reduced capacity,” Time Out noted. “These [health and safety] measures might mean such low thresholds for box office revenue that reopening simply isn’t feasible.”

SA industry is ‘grateful’ and awaiting more info

In South Africa, Ster-Kinekor said in a statement to Channel24 that it was “grateful” at the announcement.

“At this stage we are awaiting the government gazette in order to get clarity regarding the applicable social distancing and health and safety protocols including issues like the permitted number of guests per show,” the company said.

It added: “We believe that cinemas are uniquely positioned to adapt to COVID-19 as we are naturally geared for the management and flow of cinema-goers – we can regulate seating and manage social distancing both in our cinemas as well as in the foyers.

“We will ensure stringent hygiene protocols are in place and we have contactless booking and payment via our website or app.”

Industry is working on a co-ordinated opening strategy

In its response, Nu Metro cinemas said it was currently collaborating with competitors on a co-ordinated industry opening. “The nature of the engagement is currently a work-in-progress. Details of how cinemas would be able to reopen form part of the discussion process,” it stated.

According to Business Insider, both Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro have promised social distancing in their foyer spaces as well as in the screening rooms themselves, and a push towards more online ticket sales.

Both have also promised stringent hygiene measures, with Nu Metro saying it plans to disinfect some surfaces, such as door handles and ticket counters, every 30 minutes.

Will a nervous public want to go to the movies?

But given the presumed nervousness of the public to gather in indoor public spaces for health reasons, will there be sufficient uptake from the public? Ster-Kinekor seems to have no doubts that there will be.

“We know from our own research that about three-quarters of the cinema-goers reckon they are desperate to get back and they will see us definitely within the first three months, with the proviso that we make sure that the environment is safe to come back to,” CEO Ryan Williams told Talk Radio 702.

New-release blockbusters may not be available yet

One of the additional challenges, though, may be finding films that consumers actually want to see. Some of the global distributors are known to be hesitant to launch potential blockbusters at a time when many of the world’s cinemas remain closed.

In New Zealand, for example, where the cinema industry is back in full swing, they are making other plans.

“With global dates for major releases still in flux, it represents a strong opportunity for independent films which are unencumbered by the need for simultaneous global launches to play an important role in cinemas,” said one industry executive in an article carried by Screen Daily.

Also read: The drive-in: New cinema experience to launch in Cape Town