Australia’s cinema industry is hoping for a big reopening in July, with some states perhaps even opening in June. But will it be viable? Will there be suitable movies to show? And, even more importantly, will there be popcorn?
These are among the questions that the hard-hit sector must come to terms with, as restrictions on public gathering ease across the country and drive-in cinemas start to reopen to give movie buffs at least some way of feeding their habit.
In April the National Association of Cinema Operators announced that it planned to reopen cinemas in time for the premiere of Tenet, a US$205-million Hollywood blockbuster due for global release on July 16.
In its statement, the association said it was hopeful that conditions in Australia would be suitable for cinemas to safely reopen by July, adding that the organisation was “very mindful of social distancing restrictions needing to be put in place,” and that these measures would lead to cinemas “trading at reduced capacity”.
More than 60% of seats will be kept vacant
Since then, things have moved along quite rapidly. In Victoria, for example, there is talk of cinemas reopening on June 22 for a maximum of 50 people. And the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Palace Cinemas, which operates 20 art-house cinemas, wants to reopen on July 2.
According to the SMH, social distancing will likely keep at least 65% of seats vacant initially. Instead of six sessions a day in cinemas, Palace Cinemas expected there would be just three initially because of the need for intensive cleaning of all surfaces between screenings.
Other safety measures would include compulsory online booking, contactless payments, staggered session times to minimise congestion in foyers, and hand sanitiser stations in cinema entrances.
Plea for JobKeeper and rental support
The newspaper further reported that, given the limited audiences allowed during social distancing, Palace Cinemas chief executive Benjamin Zeccola has called on the federal government to extend the JobKeeper scheme for another six months and state governments to continue rental support for businesses disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“The moment JobKeeper is repealed and if any landlord wants full rent, that cinema will be unviable,” he said.
Viability of opening is a major concern
Entertainment publication Time Out says much will depend on whether cinema chains deem it viable to open amidst what seems certain to be fairly tight restrictions.
“Cinemas will need to assess if they can actually afford to operate at a significantly reduced capacity,” Time Out notes.
“Physical distancing measures are likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future, which would require staggered screenings and spaced-out seating. They will also be required to meet potentially expensive enhanced cleaning protocols. These measures might mean such low thresholds for box office revenue that reopening simply isn’t feasible.”
Yes, but can we munch on popcorn?
Time Out adds that another vital source of revenue for cinemas comes from the sale of snacks and drinks. However, in Hong Kong, where cinemas reopened in mid-May, snacks have been banned at cinemas as part of the rules to prevent the possibility of community transmission.
“With the average markup on the price of cinema-bought popcorn estimated to be around 1 275% in Australia, it’s not hard to understand why such a rule would have a big impact on any cinema’s bottom line,” it says.
The publication also points out that the coronavirus disruption in the US and lockdowns still in force around the world may delay the release of new movies. And without movies that people want to see, what’s the point?