Cinemas are banking on Bond to put regular movie releases back on the agenda

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It was the longest wait for the longest James Bond film, but this week UK cinemas finally got the blockbuster they needed to persuade audiences to come back after the shutdowns.

“This is a decisive moment. Now is the time to resume our activities, ”said Tim Richards, Managing Director of Vue, the third largest operator in the UK by number of cinemas, lasting two hours and 43 minutes. No time to die.

“This is the movie everyone has been waiting for and wondering about,” he told the Financial Times.

Theaters are hoping Bond will be the catalyst to bring audiences back after the lockdowns, despite a record number of consumers subscribing to streaming platforms during the pandemic and movie studios launching larger releases online.

“We can’t really underestimate [Bond’s] importance, ”said Chris Bates, European Sales Director of Odeon, the UK’s second largest cinema chain. “To have this big blockbuster. . . all the generations are going to come out for that and we haven’t had that yet.

Between the tickets release on September 13 and October 1, Odeon sold over 450,000 tickets for Daniel Craig’s last outing as a British Secret Agent – far exceeding the pre-sales of the previous Bond film, Spectrum. About half of those tickets went to customers who had not returned to cinemas since they were allowed to reopen in England in May, the group said.

Vue said it sold more tickets for No time to die in the first 24 hours of their going on sale than it did in four and a half weeks to Spectrum. “This is what we secretly hoped for, [but] you never plan on it, ”Richards said.

Such demand, operators say, indicates how much of a pent-up desire exists to return to the cinema despite months spent showing movies at home.

But with more and more consumers turning to on-demand platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, are blockbuster movies the only movies that will attract customers?

“Streaming not only increased, but it was also maintained after the lockdown,” said Tim Mulligan, research director at MIDiA Research.

The time UK audiences spent watching TV shows and movies increased 9.8% between September 2020 and June 2021, three months after England’s lockdown restrictions were eased for the first time, MIDiA figures show.

Mulligan argued that No time to die is an acid test for cinemas to prove themselves after the Covid disruption. “What is the value proposition for a consumer choosing to pay three times a monthly subscription?” [for a cinema ticket] where they cannot control the environment and have to leave their homes for it? That’s the question.

Theater owners say nothing can replicate the experience of watching a movie with a live audience and have continued to invest in reclining seats and better sound and screen technology, but it has been a brutal period of time. 18 months.

Cineworld, the UK’s largest cinema operator, came close to bankruptcy before successfully securing more than $ 750 million in emergency funding in November, while Odeon’s US parent company AMC has narrowly avoided collapse after raising $ 917 million in debt and equity in January.

UK weekend box office receipts remain lower than comparable pre-pandemic periods

Phil Clapp, managing director of the UK Cinema Association, said the recovery has been “stable” but there have been “ups and downs along the way”.

Marvel movie Black Widow has been the best performing film so far this year in the UK, grossing £ 6.8million in its opening weekend, according to box office figures from BFI. This compares to the £ 14.1million earned by Spider-Man: Far From Home, the most recent Marvel movie before the pandemic.

Cinema executives point out that Black Widow was released on Disney’s subscription service the same day it hit theaters.

The path to recovery still seems uncertain.

Major films Top Gun: Maverick and Mission Impossible 7 were delayed again, until 2022, and the exclusive time theaters have to screen films before general release has been reduced from 90 days to around 45 days in most cases.

Customers also have higher standards than before Covid, warned Jed Harmsen, vice president of cinema and content solutions at Dolby Laboratories.

“We think people are going to come back, but when they do, they will expect them to want the best and it will be different from what they have seen at home.”

Operators say strong ticket sales for ‘No Time to Die’ show how much pent-up demand exists to return to theaters, despite months spent streaming movies at home © Charlie Bibby / FT

Theater operators noted that while audiences this summer were still down from 2019, returning customers paid more expensive tickets for “premium” screenings that offer more comfortable seating, sound and vision. high quality or better food.

But Harmsen said a desire for more immersive and digitally enhanced experiences doesn’t necessarily mean action-packed blockbusters are preferred over arthouse films.

Even silent movies can have “a complete immersive soundscape,” he said.

Clapp said that in fact a “major conversation emerging from the pandemic is how we design a more diverse range of films for audiences,” as cinema has bounced back faster in markets like Germany and Poland. which have a high production of local films and less reliance on Hollywood versions.

But, he added, so-called tent pole films – produced with the big screen in mind – remain crucial to the survival of cinemas: “The reason they are called tent poles is because they keep the structure in place.

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