We are at least getting some idea of what to expect when we get back into cinemas. Some things will have visibly changed: hand sanitiser stations, one-way queuing systems, face masks, contactless payment, Perspex screens round ticket booths and food and drink concessions (popcorn should be permitted, but definitely not pick ‘n’ mix). “There’s an absolute understanding among the cinema sector that we need to reassure customers they are coming back into an environment where their safety is paramount,” says Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association. All of this translates into extra costs, however. As do requirements for deep cleaning between screenings, fewer daily screenings, and extra staff to help audiences.
Most significant of all are the government’s guidelines on social distancing, says Clapp. The recently announced change in distancing rules from two metres to one is the difference between cinemas being able to fill 25% of seats (with every other row empty and gaps of two or three seats between each group) and 50% of them. But the appetite is there. According to a public survey by the Film Distributors Association, 75% of Britons said they were keen to return to cinemas post-lockdown, although only 55% said they would do so at pre-lockdown levels (32% said they would be going to the cinema more).
Even with a successful reopening, the movie industry will be feeling the effects of the pandemic for a long time to come. Industry earnings worldwide will be down an estimated 60% to 70% compared to last year, which means $20bn to $30bn in lost revenues. Some changes could be permanent.