Imagine holding your own private movie screening on a huge cinema screen, with just a few family or friends. As movie theaters slowly start to return with strict social distancing measures still enforced, some cinemas have started offering exactly this option.
“With Texas allowing us to open at 25% capacity, the idea allowed us to slowly bring our guests back into a safe and controlled environment,” says Annelise Holyoak, national director of marketing and communications for Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas. “Within about 12 hours almost all the spots were sold out. We currently have a waiting list for additional weekends in the future.”
Who’s been coming? “Almost all of the upcoming bookings are families,” Holyoak says. “We are giving them a chance to celebrate (primarily) graduations and birthdays in a private and safe space, with most graduation ceremonies being virtual or cancelled.”
Utah-based Megaplex Theatres is similarly offering $375 private screenings of either recent or classic films, for up to 20 patrons. That price also includes large popcorn and drinks for all attendees.
“We’re starting with four locations to gauge guest response and work through any operational issues,” says Megaplex vice president of marketing and advertising Jeff Whipple. “We included large popcorn and drinks to provide enough for everyone while suggesting that guests not share food or drink, as an added safety measure.”
Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre is also hosting private screenings for first responders and other essential workers—capped at 10 attendees—in their 485-seat auditorium.
The concept has taken hold in foreign markets as well, including at Svenska Bio, one of Sweden’s largest chains. They set a minimum of eight tickets and a maximum 50 for a screening.
As of mid-May, when interviewed, “We have had north of 600 events, but the interest is mounting every day,” says CEO Peter Fornstam. “Basically everything that was playing mid-March and is on our servers, from Onward to [2019 French drama] An Officer and a Spy.”
Yet their content isn’t just limited to films. Playing videogames on that giant screen, for a minimum of two hours at $50 U.S. per hour, has become more and more popular. “Videogames have been around 10 percent of the bookings, but [it] is increasing,” Fornstam says. A billion dollar industry worldwide, e-sports has been hovering on the edge of the exhibition landscape even before the COVID crisis. MediaMation, with their immersive seating concept MX4D, has been active in the space; in 2019, they partnered with Hollywood Esports for an auditorium in San Diego’s Theater Box that can shift from “cinema mode” to “esports mode,” allowing for the screening of films as well as video game tournaments and events. Though much smaller in scale than the MediaMation venture, Svenska Bio’s experimentation with videogames speaks to the worldwide exhibition industry’s desire to diversify by seeking out new forms of content—and the opportunity presented by current circumstances to explore new avenues of exhibition.
Novo Cinemas, one of the largest exhibitors in the Middle East, has also begun offering private cinema rentals for 2,999 United Arab Emirates dirham, equivalent to about $816 U.S. dollars…
Main image: Novo Cinemas Doha. Photo: Wikimedia Commons