To say we are living in surreal times is indeed an understatement. Those of us who follow the film industry are watching other entertainment venues shutter on an hourly basis and wonder when the time will come—it appears to no longer be a case of whether it will come—that movie theaters in the United States and Canada will be shut down due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus.
Cinemas around the world, from Southeast Asia to Western European nations like France, Italy and Spain have been instructed to close their doors by governmental mandates. We have not yet reached that level here in North America, but as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the Western Hemisphere we are seeing virtually every other type of entertainment venue close up shop.
It has put our industry in a frightening but understandable situation. No business wants to endanger the health of its customers. Closing down movie theaters would take a terrible toll on exhibitors, employees, suppliers, advertisers, studio workers, and virtually anyone who has even a remote stake in the business.
However here’s a point worth making. There could be a silver lining for the cinema industry that other entertainment industries don’t have and that is its ability to benefit from a much heartier second half of the year, which other sectors can’t claim.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the coronavirus is brought under reasonable control by the end of June and at that time the government, and individual businesses, decide to take down the shutters and reopen. At that point, not only will the movie industry have six months of new releases ready to go with a moviegoing audience raring to get back to the multiplex, having tapped every remotely decent piece of content on streaming services, but it will also have a backlog of titles that have already been delayed (No Time To Die, Mulan, etc.) plus every film that would have been delayed from the time that cinemas would have closed.
The exhibition business is in a position to take advantage of that backlog more effectively and successfully than most other entertainment industries. For example, arenas and stadiums will only have so many open dates for the rest of the year so it’s not as if concert tours can suddenly restart and have their pick of availabilities, especially once major sporting events have begun to restart. Live theatre is in the same boat. There are only so many Broadway theatres to go around so bookers will have to choose between existing shows or new ones that had already been contracted to start in Q3 or Q4. Broadway houses don’t have 12-14 theaters to play multiple shows.
The same applies to bars and restaurants. There is no pent up demand which would drive consumers to frequent their favorite restaurant twice as much as usual. Seasonal industries such as ski areas would appear to have already lost their 2020 season. It’s a bit difficult to make snow in July.
The obvious counterpoint to this argument is: Aren’t there only so many movie screens to go around? The answer is: But have you ever checked out what’s playing in screen #12 at your local movieplex in September? Having 6-7 movies open each week in Q3 and Q4 rather than 2-3 means significantly higher box office grosses, higher concession sales, and an increase in staffing, certainly a win/win/win situation…