Leading global cinema operator Cineworld is reportedly planning to close its sites in the US, the UK and Ireland after studios pushed back the release of big budget films casting a shadow on post-pandemic revival of the industry.
The possible closures were first reported by the UK’s Sunday Times. The paper said Cineworld addressed UK prime Minister Boris Johnson and culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, warning in a letter that the industry is now “unviable.”
Later in the day, Cineworld said it was considering the move, which would be temporary, but stressed that it has not made a final decision yet.
Cineworld is Britain’s biggest cinema chain and is one of the world’s largest, second only to Wanda Cinemas. The closures may put as many as 5,500 jobs at risk in the UK and Ireland alone, where the chain runs nearly 130 sites. The company also owns the Regal Cinemas chain in the US, with around 550 locations across the country, and over a hundred venues in Europe, employing more than 37,000 people globally.
While the operator has not officially commented on the news so far, a group representing its employees, the Cineworld Action Group, said on Twitter that there had been “no consultation with staff whatsoever.” Members earlier voiced concerns over the postponement of the new James Bond film, ‘No Time To Die,’ which was pushed into April 2021, saying that there is “a serious threat of mass redundancies in our industry.”
Cineworld is set to ask most of its employees to accept redundancy, according to the Sunday Times. However, the report indicated that the measure could be temporary as theaters are likely to reopen next year, right when the major blockbusters are set to return to big screens.
The chain began reopening in July after coronavirus lockdown restrictions forced it to shut its doors for months, resulting in massive losses – Cineworld reported a $1.6 billion loss over the first half of the year. In September, the company warned that its future is uncertain in the wake of the pandemic, especially if the government strengthens Covid-19 restrictions again.
The entertainment industry, except for online services, has been struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus crisis. While the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi action film ‘Tenet’ drew cinema-goers back to theaters, the hopes for recovery this year vanished as other studios decided to wait for better times to release their big budget films. In addition to the 007 film, such movies as Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Widow,’ Paramount Pictures’ ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ were pushed to 2021, while Warner Bros. reportedly delayed ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ till Christmas.
While the future looks bleak for theaters, some industry players have tried to adjust to the new reality and attract audiences via streaming services. This scheme was used by Disney, which turned to its Disney Plus platform to premiere its newest film ‘Mulan,’ leaving it for cinemas only in those countries that don’t have the streaming service. The move has significantly boosted the user base of the platform and generated additional profit for Disney, that charged $30 to watch the new film in addition to the monthly subscription fee. Earlier this year, the company released a filmed version of the Broadway show ‘Hamilton’ the same way, but it did not ask for any additional payment back then.
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