In an earnings call webcast held this week, Reading International confirmed a 72 percent drop in year-on-year revenue in 2020, with the bulk of the drop coming from the cinema portion of the company’s business. Still, with the bulk of theaters now open across the three countries in which Reading operates—Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—CEO Ellen Cotter expressed that the chain is “poised for recovery,” citing the success of Godzilla vs. Kong, vaccine rollout in the U.S., and Australia and New Zealand’s continued handling ofCovid as “reasons to be optimistic about Reading’s future and the viability of the movie theater experience.”
Reading’s consolidated total revenues in 2020 came in at $77.9 million, down from 2019’s $276.8 million—resulting in an operating loss of $61.3 million for the year. However, Q4 2020 saw an increase in global cinema revenues (66%) and a decrease in cinema operating loss (10%) compared to Q3, “despite the fact that many of our theaters in the U.S. remain[ed] closed and those that were open, operated with restrictions in place,” said Cotter. In Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., F&B per capita spending at Reading was higher in 2020 than in any previous year, reflecting a trend towards increased average F&B spend throughout the pandemic period seen in other cinema chains.
2020 closed with 74 percent of Reading’s cinemas open; as of April 5, 2021 that number was up to 86 percent, consisting of 92 percent of cinemas open in Australia, 79 percent in the United States (boosted by recent reopenings in New York City and California), and all but one in New Zealand—with that theater closed due to ongoing seismic concerns unrelated to the pandemic. December 2020 saw the opening of a new Reading cinema in Jindallee, Queensland, Australia, featuring six screens, recliners, and a Titan Luxe PLF screen with Dolby Atmos sound.
Over the last year, said Cotter, “Because our international theaters could not rely on a slate of Hollywood tent-pole movies, we pivoted our programming to feature not only films from Asia and Europe, but also locally produced films, many of which performed quite well at the box office.” In the U.S., the chain branched out with Angelika Anywhere, a streaming service soft launched in December 2020 to bring Reading’s U.S. Angelika art-house brand to moviegoers at home. “Our goal,” said Cotter, “is to offer cinephiles easy and curated access to the type of product that has made our Angelika Film Center the most recognized, dedicated arthouse in North America. And to create a contactless experience for our guests, we launched advanced online F&B ordering on our cinema app in the United States.” The last year also saw Reading launch private cinema rentals in all three of the countries in which it operates; Angelika Anywhere is expected to expand to New Zealand and Australia later in 2021.
Given Reading’s own move into exhibitor-branded PVOD over the last year, it’s no surprise that Cotter expressed the belief that streaming will not “materially adversely impact the future of the exhibition business.” That said, she noted, “we do believe that film rental terms need to adjust to take into account the shortening or elimination of the exclusive theatrical window.” Conversations will continue to be had with studios to come an “an economic arrangement acceptable for both the film companies and our company,” with decisions surrounding booking and programming “likely [to] be different in the United States versus what our positions may be in Australia and New Zealand.”