What will the 'new normal' be for UK cinemas?

For those of us who have watched every Netflix series available, a chance to sit in front of the big screen once more sounds very appealing.

According to the government’s exit strategy, cinemas in England could reopen in a month's time.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to announce their provisional dates, but chains Cineworld and Odeon are optimistic that in July, they will be able to welcome audiences across the UK. CEO of Vue, Tim Richards, even said theatres will experience a demand "like we’ve never seen before”.

Is this wishful thinking or will UK cinema's emerge from lockdown only lightly scathed?

  • How have movie theatres been impacted?

The second-largest cinema operator in the world has said it has found the pandemic “extremely challenging”, so it can be safely assumed that Cineworld's smaller competitors have also been hit hard. The behemoth's bosses have deferred their pay packets for the past year, calling the move a “painful but necessary process”.

Independent theatres have also suffered. The popular Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle is relying on a donation campaign to stay afloat, while alarmingly, a survey by the UK’s Independent Cinema Office found almost 40% of employers had made or expected to make redundancies.

  • What will the industry look like once cinemas are allowed to reopen?

Chains comprise a huge chunk of the sector - the six largest cinema operators are collectively responsible for about 85 per cent of the industry. Therefore, film fans would be limited in their choice of theatres if the major players fold. The independent cinema scene might also diminish - around 40 per cent of those surveyed felt they would be able to reopen with social distancing measures.

However, this double blow does not mean the UK will be starved for films. Streaming figures were rising before coronavirus hit and with cinemas closed, the use of such platforms has jumped by 65 per cent. Films that were meant to be released in cinemas during the lockdown, such as Trolls World Tour, have instead gone straight to streaming or on-demand services.

Will film studios continue to overlook the middleman after cinemas reopen? It’s a firm "no" from The International Union of Cinemas.

“This is not a development which is in the interest of either the sector or audiences”, it said. The body anticipates that the overwhelming majority of films delayed by coronavirus will be rescheduled for cinema release in the near future.

  • What will theatres look like when they reopen?

An employee wearing a face mask as preventive measure cleans and disinfects cinema seats before the show. Credit: PA

In the UK, no cinema-specific safety guidelines have yet been set. Referring to Europe, where many countries have published rules and/or begun to reopen cinemas, does not give a clear picture. Standards differ from country to country. For instance, Poland's screening capacity is 50 per cent, while in Bulgaria, only 30 per cent of seats can be filled.

While waiting for their government to announce a provisional reopening date, Northern Irish chain Movie House has already installed hand sanitisers around each building.

“Online allocated booking will be essential”, Michael McAdam, Movie House Managing Director, added. “Our booking system will automatically space customers...you can book with your own party seated together but there will automatically be no seats sold on either side to provide.”

Showcase Cinemas, which has theatres in England, Scotland and Wales, will also ban in-person booking. General Manager Mark Barlow said the chain will “restrict capacities per auditorium and implement staggered film start times on a reduced schedule.” Customers can also expect Perspex shields at all till points and hand sanitising stations.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know