CJCinemaSummit Recap: Exhibitor Resources in the Fight Against COVID-19

Image courtesy of AMC

Members of the exhibition community came together—if through their computer screens—for the first CJCinemaSummit. Hosted on Thursday, March 19 and presented by Celluloid Junkie, The Big Picture, and Filmgrail the digital seminar provided a venue for speakers and exhibition professionals to communicate with each other in the midst of ongoing theater closures during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Presenters were Celluloid Junkie editor Patrick von Sychowski and executive editor J. Sperling Reich; as well as Rob Arthur, senior consultant at The Big Picture; and Dr. Hiu Man Chan, a consultant and researcher with a particular knowledge of the Chinese theatrical market. 

That market was a prominent of discussion. Hours before the seminar the news has been announced that, after approximately eight weeks of closure, Chinese theaters would begin to re-open to the public, playing older titles to compensate for a lack of new content. Here are some of the other key points addressed during the summit.

Rob Arthur advised that theaters look into their insurance policies to see which provisions, if any, may be activated during the current shutdown. This will change based on the country and the condition of the individual policy—for example, noted Reich, some provisions will activated only if a theater closed due to government shutdown, versus if they chose to shut down on their own.

In terms of direct action that theaters should take leading up to a during the shutdown, von Sychowski recommended the following:

  • Review employee and management contracts. Talk to HR as you begin to furlough employees.
  • Communicate extensively with staff and customers alike.
  • Have discussions with your landlord to talk about rent deferrals or rent holidays. Argues Arthur, cinemas “are some of the best tenants in any location, anywhere in the world,” as they tend to take out long-term leases and boost activity in surrounding retail locations. 
  • Talk to distributors, “applying the pressure to them” not to release films online. “That message needs to come through loud and clear, individually,” says von Sychowski.
  • Petition for government assistance, such as tax breaks or deferred payments. Trade bodies will be essential in advocating for government assistance, which NATO (among others) have already begun to do.
  • Be sure to cancel food and beverage orders; return and sell what you can. Do inventory before closing. von Sychowski: “Nobody wants popcorn [that’s months] old, even if it’s carefully vacuum packed.”
  • Power down all equipment, including projectors and servers, safely. Look to integrators and suppliers for guidelines on how to do so for each product.
  • Double-check security measures, both physical (for empty theaters) and online. Bank all your cash.
  • If you still pay them, review your VPF contracts. Find out how it will function if your theater is closed for months.
  • Cut down your cash expenditures.
  • Pause subscription programs and make note of any unlimited tickets or gift cards that may expire while your theater is closed; consider extending expiration dates so “customers don’t feel like they’re being charged unfairly.” 
  • “Think of what you can do” remotely during this time, such as strategy meetings, remote staff trainings, or reviewing accumulated customer data. 
  • Those with high-paying positions at larger cinema chains should consider taking a salary cut as a way of “sharing the pain and showing solidarity with all your staff.”

The next CJCinemaSummit will take place Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 4pm GMT. You can register here.

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