Some of the major cinemas began to reopen this weekend and plan to be fully reopened by Labor Day weekend after a five-month hiatus. AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Marcus Theaters and Southern Theaters all shut their doors early in the pandemic amid rising coronavirus cases in many areas of the U.S. But, now moviegoers will have a chance to escape what’s been a stressful six months of stay-at-home orders, social distancing measures, and the threat of a killer virus.
Many of the cinemas are promising that strict safety protocols are in place to protect its patrons.
On its website, AMC sent a message to its customers: “Welcome back to the movies. We’re thrilled to welcome you back and to celebrate 100 years of movies at AMC. Many theatres are now open, and most theatres will be open by Labor Day weekend.”
AMC also told those who plan to visit that they’ve taken precautions to protect its consumers.
“On your next theatre visit, you’ll notice that we’ve taken steps to reduce touchpoints and protect your safety, including simplified menus for shorter lines at concessions and reduced auditorium capacities for social distancing.”
AMC also went on to say that it will be promoting social distancing measures by having a reduced capacity of 40 percent or less of its auditoriums. Theater management will also require masks of all its customers, and masks will only be able to be removed when eating or drinking.
The entertainment venue is also promoting cashless transactions. AMC will allow cash to purchase movie tickets, but will not accept cash payments at its concession stands. AMC said it prefers plastic transactions at this time.
The lure of new film releases may be enough to draw customers. However, some are skeptical that fans may think twice about returning so soon.
Jeff Bock, a senior analyst with Exhibitor Relations, said: “The reopening of movie theaters this weekend is definitely a bittersweet moment for the film industry. On one hand, it’s a relief to see cinemas open their doors again, but at the same time, many of these theaters are opening in states and cities that still don’t have a handle on the spread of the virus. So, as nice as it is to see new content in theaters, many people simply won’t take the risk, and the ones that do could easily be exposed to the virus.”
Bock may be on to something. Infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists have previously said that it’s possible COVID-19 droplets can be expelled through the types of air conditioning units usually found in movie theaters. Enclosed spaces are also a concern. And many experts believe the masks will come off once the lights are out because people who are willing to risk their health at this point probably aren’t staunch advocates of safety measures in the first place.
Bock said, “I suspect we’ll see a surge of activity opening this weekend, and if all goes without incident, a very slow return to normal. Like months, not weeks. Of course, if multiple, traceable outbreaks occur, we’ll definitely be looking at premium video on demand for the foreseeable future until we wrangle this virus.”
Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, said that his theaters have newly installed air filtration systems to help prevent spread of the virus.
A recent survey by Morning Consult in August showed that only 17 percent of consumers feel okay about going to the movies right now. In July, a recent survey showed that 20 percent were comfortable about seeing a movie at the theater then.
Doug Stone of Box Office Analyst said, “Personally, I know of few in my peer group who are anxious to return to theaters, but we are not frequent attendees in any case. There may be stronger interest in younger groups, but I believe the over 40 crowd will be cautious.”
However, a poll by online movie ticket vendor, Atom Tickets, showed that 74 percent of 16,000 movie fans are willing to return to the movies within a month. Forty percent they would head to the cinemas today.