CJ Cinema Summit Review June 4, 2020

CJ Cinema Summit from June 4th, 2020: The Post-COVID-19 Premium Moviegoing Experience

Last week, Celluloid Junkie, Filmgrail and The Big Picture hosted their latest CJ Cinema Summit on the topic of the new Premium Large-Format (PLF) experiences that audiences can expect with cinemas reopening.

During this episode of the summit, we explored the implications and realities of the reopening for audiences and cinemas alike. Host Patrick Von Sychowski and co-host J. Sperling Reich were joined by Doug Darrow (Senior Vice President, Cinema Business Group, Dolby), Oliver Pasch (VP Sales and Business Development, Premium Cinema, Cinionic) and Guillaume Branders (Senior Industry Relations Manager, UNIC). 

This engaging episode was kicked off with a video featuring 1917 star George Mackay. In it, Mackay encouraged viewers to donate to MediCinema, a charity that brings the cinema experience to people in hospitals and places of care. 

From there, it was business straightaway.

AMC and Cinemax, two US cinema giants, are planning to reopen theatres across the country by the end of June. “This is in line with the decision of several US state governments to relax lockdown rules,” Reich said. “In most states, counties are allowing cinemas to open. I think LA might just be reaching that point.”

This comes after the NY Times ran with the news that AMC may not be in business once the pandemic is over. According to Reich, that piece of news may have been a debt restructuring tactic due to COVID related losses. Von Sychowski and Reich also discussed the possibility of smaller circuit cinemas closing down and being absorbed by the larger companies. 

The topic of cinema reopening is fast becoming a global event. Across Europe, a handful of marquee lights have started flashing again, with Norway leading the way back in May and 15 other territories since joining the trend. 

Guillaume Branders, who heads the Industry Relations department at The International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), has been the go-to person for regular updates on cinemas reopening across Europe. Since the start of lockdown measures, UNIC has been gathering information on cinema relief funds, reopening dates, health guidelines, and the way cinemas have been engaging audiences during shutdown.  

Branders is of the opinion that cinemas across all Europe should be open again by the first week of July. 

"In Norway, the film union has done an amazing job preparing health and safety guidelines for their partners," stated Branders. Meanwhile, the reopening strategies in Germany and Spain have been staggered at best and may require a complete upgrade of the cinema experience to achieve pre-pandemic results. 

For Doug Darrow, Senior VP Cinema Business Group at Dolby, the last four to six years have seen a tremendous increase in the adoption of the premium moviegoing experience with now over 4000 screens around the world using the format. 

Darrow argued that both the potential reduction in the number of screens in some markets and the rumored variability in the exclusive theatrical window may truncate the global box office. However, one way that the exhibitors can compensate for this loss is through a large scale adoption of the PLF segment, which provides guests a differentiated, more immersive theatrical experience — a factor of excitement that can get them back to the theatres. 

"People will go in, have that experience and will become fans," said Darrow before adding that financial allowances should be given to help distributors switch to PLF technology. 

Oliver Paschr, a new member of the Cinionic team, echoed the same sentiments: The way to get audiences back into movie theatres is to grant them a viewing experience that is hugely different from what they see on TV at home. The team at Cinionic is developing new ways to help cinemas and distributors bounce back stronger with PLF at the forefront. 

Although most cinemas are on ‘break’, the teams at Dolby aren’t. Vision grading and Atmos mixing work are being done on many new releases slated for later this year. Darrow confirmed that Dolby is also doing this work for old movies since cinemas across the globe are testing the waters of reopening with old films. 

Another topic of discussion during last week’s CJ Cinema Summit episode was that of safety. For starters, most cinemas that are reopening across Europe are communicating new safety guidelines to patrons via handouts, signs, and trailers before the movie starts. 

The panel discussed the possibility of private screenings for controlled groups of families and friends. Although this suggestion may be easier for smaller markets across the globe (with recent examples of this model in Spain), it may prove to be more difficult for more established markets like the US.

The session closed out with questions from participants curious about the variation in safety measures adopted across countries, as well as the chance of survival of smaller independent circuits. Both experts agreed that stringent safety and disinfection measures have to follow in all markets. All the essential cogs are working together to make sure that audiences enjoy more from their cinema experience, even with the realities of COVID-19. 

The CJ Cinema Summit episode can be found here.

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