This Week on the Boxoffice Podcast: UNIC’s Laura Houlgatte-Abbott on the Second Wave of Cinema Closures in Europe

Laura Houlgatte Abbott ©DR

In this week’s episode of the Boxoffice Podcast, Boxoffice Pro Editorial Director Daniel Loria and Deputy Editor Rebecca Pahle were joined by UNIC CEO Laura Houlgatte-Abbott, who broke down the still-evolving situation in Europe. Several countries there have been subject to a second wave of shutdowns—either total or in select regions. As Houlgatte-Abbott notes in the Boxoffice Podcast’s exclusive interview, those lockdowns are not targeted at cinemas, which to this point have not been identified as a site of Covid-19 spread.

Earlier in the podcast, Loria and Pahle break down news and insights gleaned from earnings calls that have taken place over the last week, with AMC, Marcus, Imax, and Kinepolis updating their investors on the state of their respective businesses.

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Laura Houlgatte-Abbot on… How the Second Round of Lockdowns Came to Be

“[Cinemas] are being shut down as a part of limiting the places to which the population can go to an interact, basically. Just to try to control the spikes of virus that we’re seeing across our territories. I think it happened really fast. It’s fair to say that we were not foreseeing it happening so quickly, in terms of having second lockdowns. Where we’ve been quite successful is in a number of countries governments did say that cinemas were safe places. So they did acknowledge all the efforts that were put in place by cinema operators. They acknowledge that not a single case had been traced to a cinema, and it basically was safe for the audience to go there. But unfortunately, again, it was part of a more general logic of going back to an idea of a lockdown.”

…on the Lockdowns Not Being Open-Ended

“I think this time there is an understanding at government levels that they need to give a deadline for reviewing, at least, the measures. That they can’t just say ‘This is open-ended, and we don’t know when we’re going to start reopening. We’re going to take two weeks to review.’ Or, ‘We are telling you that the lockdown is going to last for a month.’ For example, Belgium announced last week a partial lockdown that’s going to last until 13 December. The UK has announced it for a month starting from 5 November, France for a month as well until 2nd December. And there is also understanding that they are gonna look at the impact on the on the figures. After two weeks or a month, there’s going to be a review. And they’re going to decide whether or not this is going to be extended.”

…on How European Markets Were Doing Prior to the Second Wave of Lockdowns

“Some territories are more successful that than others, especially where you had availability of new titles, both U.S. and European. The Netherlands is the one I’m always quoting, because from week one, the audience was back in the screening room in numbers. And they achieved quite amazing results, even though their capacity for long time was limited to 30 people maximum…. From one week to another in September, they even managed to have positive box office figures compared to last year, which was baffling! That, for me, was a really great example, France did really well. They’re very lucky in the sense [that] they had a diversity of titles to show to their audiences, so they really managed to attract a lot of people. It’s sad to say that the most successful weekend since reopening in France was the one just before the second lockdown. It really added insult to injury, if I can say that.”

…on the Continued Need for Government Aid for Movie Theaters

“State aid really makes a difference, where it exists. And this is why we are pushing at all levels—local, national, European—to ensure that cinemas can benefit from support. Because we know that without any kind of financial support, it would be extremely challenging for some of our guys to survive this period. We were lucky enough to see that period of reopening and being able to actually showcase that, again, the audience was coming back to the cinema and that investing in cinemas right now was investing in a business that had been very successful. … We know we’re going to need [financial aid], and we need it now. We can’t wait six months. We can’t afford to wait for six months or a year before this financial support is actually being given. That’s the issue we’ve had in some countries, for example, where yes, the support has been promised, but the money has not been seen yet.” [A run-down of financial initiatives can be found here, on UNIC’s website.]

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