2020 proved a difficult year for the movie theater industry. Between quarantine and movie studios releasing movies via streaming platforms rather than on the big screen, there was an estimated loss of 32 billion dollars for the global cinema industry.
These losses equate to a 71.5 percent loss of revenue between 2019 and 2020 and it also marks the biggest loss of revenue for the industry in 20 years.
With growing vaccination rates, movie theaters across the country are beginning to open their doors and welcome guests back to the big screen. However, the question remains if the industry will be able to recoup their financial losses and build a sustainable future in an uncertain world.
The key issue on how successful theaters will be upon reopening will be how they balance between allowing patrons inside and promoting a safe environment that will minimize the spread of COVID-19.
One way the industry hopes to accomplish this is through the “Cinema Safe” program.
The program is headed by the National Association of Movie Theater Owners and comprises over 445 different companies that represent 32,000 screens across the country.
The main goal of the “Cinema Safe” initiative is to promote health guidelines for both employees and movie theater patrons. Things like maintaining social distancing, hand sanitizing and wearing a mask are emphasized and expected of all people inside the theater.
Moreover, like most things in the COVID-19 pandemic, the program places special attention on purchasing tickets online rather than in-person and promotes contactless pay for concessions.
The guidelines also state that each theater will have reduced capacity to limit the potential for spreading the virus.
As each state has different regulations focusing on building capacity, the number of patrons allowed inside a movie theater vary from each state, and sometimes even from county to county.
Whether or not these extra precautions will entice people to go to the movies is something that is debated between industry experts.
Some believe that as states lessen their social distancing regulations movie theaters will experience a resurgence of visitors based off the 48.5-million-dollar box office Godzilla vs. Kong drew in.
Not everything will be back to normal. Movie theater chains such as Regal Cinema and other chains have renegotiated how long movies will be shown at the big screen before being put online. This is to lessen the amount of people regularly visiting the movie theater.
Moreover, theaters will depend heavily on customers they define as “regular movie-goers” or those who purchase and watch a movie on the big screen an average of once a month. Regaining the confidence of this demographic will be crucial to reopening successfully.
However, not everyone is as optimistic about the future. Researchers at the University of Southern California predict that streaming will become the dominant way for people to watch new releases, while theaters will be reserved for specific niche audiences.
Whether that becomes the case or not will be dependent on how much trust movie theaters foster with their customers and how willing people are to actually go to the movie theater.