Lockdown has been brutal for indoor entertainment venues, and not least the movie theatres where strangers once sat side-by-side, sometimes for hours on end, transfixed to the dramas that played out before them.
As a result of cinemas closing in March, many of the blockbusters earmarked for the summer were either delayed or, in the controversial case of Trolls 2, leapfrogged the big screen completely to go straight to streaming (pay per view, of course).
Another effect is, of course, that ad revenues have plummeted. Rather than growing 9% this year as expected and bringing in £249m, UK cinemas are now on course to report revenues that are less than half of 2019’s total according to Group M.
As some cinema chains reopened in England on Sunday (4 July) with new social distancing restrictions, they did so knowing there is a great deal riding on the second half of 2020.
“It has shown us just how much people love cinema,“ says Kathryn Jacob, the chief executive of cinema advertising chain Pearl & Dean. “So many people have been asking when they are going to be opening and what we can expect to see. And that’s not just the general public, but brands too. They want to know how the second half of the year is going to work out and when they can get back in front of a big screen and have a really good time.”
For Karen Stacey, the chief executive of DCM, one of the lessons learned these last few months is around the kind of content audiences are looking for.
“If you think about brands and the audiences they are trying to reach, then that is an audience we’re really strong for – 16 to 34-year-olds. And although television’s obviously had this huge increase in viewing, so has subscription video-on-demand – which is really is our audience too. And it is a really tricky audience for brands to reach, but we have had some sort of corroboration around what it is this audience is looking for, and that is really high-end culturally relevant content.”
On the movie front, waiting in the wings is a highly anticipated Christopher Nolan movie, Tenet, that Warner Brothers has already rescheduled twice but now plans to open on 12 August. As a result of that delay, both Cineworld and US chain Regal now aim to reopen on 31 July. Other movies set to roll out in the coming months following delays are a Disney remake of Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II and Wonder Woman 1984.
The next Bond movie, No Time To Die, has also been rescheduled by Sony in order to fully capitalise on as many bums on cinema seats as possible so it can try recoup the hefty budget that went into Daniel Craig’s swan song as the British secret agent.
With Odeon set to go first with a phased reopening (followed, a week later, by Vue Cinemas on 11 July) and with no new releases due immediately, what exactly is there to lure audiences back to their local picture houses?
Well Trolls 2 will make it to cinemas after all as part of a library of 450 films that also includes Call of the Wild starring Harrison Ford and the 4K release of The Empire Strikes Back.
“We are all now deeply ingrained in our operational procedures,” says Shona Gold, Vue International’s group director of brand and marketing, as she tells how customer safety will be the paramount objective of any reopening, led by the UK Cinema Association which is working with each of the cinema chains. Vue has also been speaking to its 20 locations in Taiwan about how staff there have been operating and the lessons to be learned.
“This is all about that journey through the foyer. With our online booking we already have an advantage as we have invested in tech that ensures when you book a single ticket or as a couple or a household group, our seating system automatically blocks out the seats around you. On top of that, we will have all of the measures you would expect so we can keep our staff safe as well as our customers.”
Thought has also gone into how Vue will stop corridor congestion, with film times set to be staggered, and there are enhanced cleaning regimens and social distancing plans in place too. “Once you get into that big screen, that moment is uncompromised,“ says Gold, adding that Vue has even made sure it can serve popcorn and sugary drinks in a safe way so the big screen experience is as close as possible to how it always was. “After we’ve got all those operations procedures right, it’s all about working on the communications and how we get that message out to our customers. We’re not shying away from the fact that things are different and we’re not pretending it’s going to be the same. The way we put it is, it’s business but it’s not business as usual.“
To hear more from this conversation around the reopening of cinemas and the potential for advertising on movie screens, watch The Drum’s Can-Do Festival special cinema session.