Boxoffice LIVE Sessions: FNCF’s Richard Patry on French Cinemas in the Age of Coronavirus

In its first Live Sessions webinar, Boxoffice Pro France invited FNCF leaders Richard Patry and Marc-Olivier Sebbag in a moderated conversation with editor-in-chief Marion Delique Selmier and publisher Julien Marcel. The heads of France’s cinema tradebody discussed the impact of the coronavirus crisis on their industry in front of a live audience of 400 professionals. Here’s a recap of the main topics from the conversation:

Back to Business by Q4?

With French cinemas closed since March 15, the first time widespread closures have affected the French market in its history, the FNCF is focusing its efforts on working towards a “total exit from the crisis in the last quarter of the year,” according to president Richard Patry. “It will be very difficult to have regular and consistent activity by then,” says Patry, who predicts a reopening plan for the country’s cinemas to take place as quickly as the closures took place. “This period will be very complicated to manage.” 

“[Cinemas] will reopen partially, films will not necessarily be available immediately. It would be better if there was a ‘D-day’ of reopening for everyone, but we don’t believe it will happen. Exhibitors have already committed to reprogram the films that were showing before the containment measures, which still have potential: a necessity vis-à-vis distributors and the public,” adds Marc-Olivier Sebbag. The transition period should be followed by a major communication campaign on the end of the crisis and in favor of the resumption of normal activity, in order to encourage audiences to return to theaters. As of now, the Federation invites all professionals to distribute the hashtag # Oniratousaucinéma on their social networks, in order to maintain the link with spectators and to recall that “even if the rooms are asleep, they are still very much alive”.

Content Availability

According to Richard Patry, the FNCF is more concerned about the availability of films after the crisis rather than a bottleneck of titles. “We are in a global crisis and half of our film supply depends on the United States, which implemented measures much later than we did and which is now experiencing greater difficulties. [Cinema] professionals are not protected by the state and the structure of their industry is different. Many companies are in debt and our American colleagues will take longer than us to restart their business, as will the American studios.” The FNCF president expressed optimism that some studios would be ready to tier their European rollouts rather than enacting a global strategy in the early days of the recovery.

Reassuring Audiences

France’s public authorities will be in charge of implementing sanitary measures ahead of the reopening of cinemas. The FNCF is currently working on a best practices guide to support cinemas in the transition. The greater challenge ahead is communicating with spectators who find themselves reluctant to return to cinemas; to do so, cinemas will need to ensure their auditoriums meet the proper sanitary criteria and communicate that certification with audiences. While the specific date to reopening French cinemas is still to be determined, Richard Patry is optimistic, “I want to believe that people will want to go back to their normal lives.”

Responding to Financial Difficulties

The FNCF calls on cinemas to apply for the French government’s financial measures and resources allocated to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. By opting for public programs to get through the crisis, the industry’s cash reserves (managed by cross-industry trade body CNC) cash will be better preserved for the future. Calls are being made for the CNC to establish an emergency fund for exhibitors who still find themselves in a dire financial situation despite government assistance. By using government programs as opposed to existing CNC funds, Richard Patry believes the industry can “conserve as much as possible for the recovery” and not “obstruct the future” one cinemas reopen. “The money in our support account is [the industry’s]; it is better to turn to state funds than the industry’s, because we will need those resources to revive the sector,” he said. “Our auditoriums are there and ready to return,” added Patry. “We are here to help [exhibitors] and we will emerge stronger from the crisis.”