Reopening cinemas safely after lockdown

Reapertura de cines de forma segura después del confinamiento

Cinema, like other industries in the leisure and hospitality sector, has been hit hard by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, but movie theatres are now slowly beginning to reopen in some countries. In this Insight paper, our Leisure Director David Wallace looks at the effects of the lockdown on the cinema industry and on the health security measures which are needed to ensure that moviegoers can feel confident about returning to their local cinemas.

The effect of lockdown on the cinema industry

For many cinema operators, the most challenging effect of cinemas being closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been lack of cashflow. The companies which have deeper pockets have been better able to weather this but it has been a challenge for all cinema operators. Some marginal cinema locations will not reopen while social distancing requirements remain in place because low occupancy would remove their viability as a business.

In addition, a number of film studios have postponed cinema releases because of the lockdown – a process which actually started before cinemas were closed as the studios realised that fewer people were prepared to go to cinemas as the rate of COVID-19 virus transmission rose. The industry is now pinning its post-lockdown hopes on a couple of big upcoming movie releases, such as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which will be a good test of how quickly cinema is likely to return to something like normality.

The big film studios and cinema operators usually operate on a mutual understanding which provides for what they call “a window” – a period in which new movies are released exclusively in cinemas before being made available in other formats (typically about 17 weeks, although it varies by country). This window is critical for the cinema industry in terms of attracting customers during this exclusive period.

However, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the large studios decided to release new films straight to other formats (streaming services and television) rather than postponing release, which has been viewed by some cinema operators as a dangerous precedent for their industry.

An interesting response in some countries, including Dubai and Germany, has been a rise in drive-in movie showings, where people stay in their cars – an easy way to avoid the risk of virus transmission. They have been very successful, but whether they become a permanent phenomenon when cinemas reopen (with their air conditioning, more sophisticated audiovisual technology and wider range of F&B options) remains to be seen.

Construction of new cinemas slowed or stopped in many places for a period of weeks or months, but many sites are now reopening and the projects are progressing again. Chapman Taylor has been working on the design and delivery of several new cinema developments across Saudi Arabia, for example, where sites have reopened after a few weeks of closure and construction is now back under way.

Meanwhile, cinemas in Dubai have opened up already, as have cinemas in many countries across Europe and Asia, as well as in a number of American states. We expect cinemas in Saudi Arabia to reopen from the end of June and in the UK from 4 July.

Reopening cinemas safely

Now that cinemas are beginning to reopen in many places around the world, it is crucial that potential moviegoers can have confidence in the provisions made by cinema operators for minimising the risk of virus transmission if they are to return to cinema theatres. We are seeing a number of common health security provisions being adopted by cinemas around the world which have already reopened, which can be divided into measures for the lobby and those for the theatres:

Lobby provisions

  • Temperature checks at entrances.
  • Points of sale are completely contactless, both for payment and for receiving tickets, food and drinks.
  • Online ticket pre-ordering is encouraged as much as possible in several venues; physical ticket collection could also be reduced or removed in favour of mobile phone QR codes.
  • Tickets limited to 30% of full occupancy numbers, as, for example, at the Reel Cinemas complex in The Dubai Mall.
  • Film showings timed to prevent crowds building – easier with fewer new films being released.
  • Hand sanitiser facilities at several key points, particularly at entrances / exits and near surfaces which might be touched more regularly.
  • Some cinemas in the USA have taped off sections and seats.
  • Automated / sensor-led doors, taps and toilets in restrooms.
  • Keeping doors open as far as practicable to reduce the need to touch handles, panels etc.

In-theatre provisions

  • The period of time between showings is extended to allow for thorough sanitisation before the next audience arrives.
  • Every other seat, both side-to-side and front-to rear, is left empty in a chequerboard fashion to allow for greater distancing.
  • Shielded seating – for example, the installation of plexiglass shields between / around seats.
  • Family units of up to four people can be allowed to sit together in Dubai, assuming they have isolated together.
  • Luxury cinemas are often already configured in a manner which allows for sufficient social distancing, but waiter service will not be possible.
  • Managed exit processes (perhaps by row) so that people leave theatres in a staggered manner to prevent crowding bottlenecks at doors.

Design implications

Most of the measures outlined above are short-to-medium-term management strategies and we are not anticipating long-term design implications as a result of the pandemic. Even if an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is never found, cinemas and other commercial sectors will eventually return to something like what was considered normal until the beginning of 2020.

However, it is possible that the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated some design trends, such as automated ordering of tickets and food, online booking and the reduction or elimination of traditional long concession stands. We would expect this acceleration to feed through in terms of the design of new cinema buildings first before existing buildings start to reconfigure their layouts and processes.

Generally, although cinema has been hit hard, we expect the cinema industry to bounce back quite strongly, particularly because before the COVID-19 lockdown, cinema attendances were at record levels. Remember when everyone believed that video was going to kill cinema? That did not happen, and for a number of reasons. Home entertainment was not a communal experience, it often involved interruptions and the audiovisual experience not as good. The resurgence of cinema over the last 25 years has proved that predictions of its decline should not be trusted. Cinema will always be popular and people will always want to go out, meet people and experience things – more so now, following months of lockdown, than ever before.

Chapman Taylor has designed and delivered many of the world’s largest and most striking cinema projects. Our understanding of what adds value to the customer experience is essential in creating high-quality, efficient and exciting environments for people to enjoy. We strive to design the best cinematic experience available, combining state-of-the-art technology with simplified functionality to create maximum value for both clients and cinema-goers. This is why many of the best-known names in cinema choose to work with us again and again.

El cine, como otras industrias en el sector del ocio y la hostelería, se ha visto muy afectado por el confinamiento mundial de la pandemia COVID-19. Los cines ahora están comenzando a reabrir lentamente en algunos países. En este nuevo Insight , nuestro Director de Ocio, David Wallace, analiza los efectos del confinamiento en la industria del cine y las medidas de seguridad para la salud que se necesitan abordar para garantizar que los espectadores puedan sentirse seguros al regresar al cine.

El efecto confinamiento en la industria del cine

Para muchos operadores de cine, el efecto más desafiante de los cines cerrados en respuesta a la pandemia del COVID-19 ha sido la falta de flujo de caja. Las empresas que tienen bolsillos más profundos han podido superar esto pero ha sido un desafío para todos los operadores de cine. Algunos lugares de cine marginales no se volverán a abrir mientras se mantengan los requisitos de distanciamiento social porque la baja ocupación eliminaría su viabilidad como negocio.

Además, varios estudios de cine han pospuesto los próximos estrenos debido al confinamiento, un proceso que realmente comenzó antes de que se cerraran los cines. La industria ahora está fijando sus esperanzas posteriores al cierre en un par de grandes estrenos de películas, como Tenet de Christopher Nolan, que será una buena prueba de la rapidez con la que el cine volverá a la normalidad.

Los grandes estudios y los operadores de cine generalmente operan en un entendimiento mutuo que proporciona lo que ellos llaman "una ventana", un período en el que las nuevas películas se lanzan exclusivamente en los cines antes de estar disponibles en otros formatos (generalmente alrededor de 17 semanas, aunque varía según el país). Esta ventana es crítica para la industria del cine en términos de atraer clientes durante este período exclusivo.

Sin embargo, en respuesta a la pandemia de coronavirus, uno de los grandes estudios decidió lanzar nuevas películas directamente a otros formatos (servicios de transmisión y televisión) en lugar de posponer el lanzamiento, que algunos operadores de cine han visto como un precedente peligroso para su industria.

Una respuesta interesante en algunos países, incluidos Dubai y Alemania, ha sido un aumento en las proyecciones de películas en el que las personas permanecen en sus automóviles, una forma fácil de evitar el riesgo de transmisión de virus. Han tenido mucho éxito, pero queda por ver si se convertirán en un fenómeno permanente cuando los cines vuelvan a abrir (con su aire acondicionado, tecnología audiovisual más sofisticada y una gama más amplia de opciones de F&B).

La construcción de nuevos cines se ralentizó o detuvo en muchos lugares durante un período de semanas o meses, pero muchos sitios ahora están reabriendo y los proyectos están progresando nuevamente. Chapman Taylor ha estado trabajando en el diseño y la entrega de varios nuevos desarrollos de cines en Arabia Saudita, por ejemplo, donde los sitios se han reabierto después de unas pocas semanas de cierre y la construcción ahora está en marcha.

Mientras tanto, los cines en Dubai ya se han abierto, al igual que los cines en muchos países de Europa y Asia, así como en varios estados de América. Esperamos que los cines en Arabia Saudita se reabran desde finales de junio y en el Reino Unido desde el 4 de julio.

Reapertura de cines de forma segura

Ahora que los cines están comenzando a reabrir en muchos lugares del mundo, es crucial que los espectadores potenciales puedan confiar en las disposiciones hechas por los operadores de cine para minimizar el riesgo de transmisión de virus si van a regresar a los cines. Estamos viendo una serie de disposiciones comunes de seguridad sanitaria que están siendo adoptadas por los cines de todo el mundo que ya han reabierto, que se pueden dividir en medidas para el vestíbulo y para el patio de butacas:

• Control de temperatura en las entradas.
• Los puntos de venta son completamente sin contacto, tanto para el pago como para recibir entradas, alimentos y bebidas.
• Se recomienda la reserva de entradas por internet tanto como sea posible en varios lugares; La recogida de entradas físicas también podría reducirse o eliminarse en favor de los códigos QR de los teléfonos móviles.
• Las entradas están limitadas al 30% de los números de ocupación completa, como por ejemplo, en el complejo Reel Cinemas en The Dubai Mall.
• Las proyecciones de películas programadas para evitar la acumulación de multitudes será más fácil con el lanzamiento de menos películas nuevas.
• Instalaciones con desinfectante de manos en varios puntos clave, particularmente en entradas / salidas y cerca de superficies que podrían tocarse más regularmente.
• Puertas, grifos e inodoros automáticos / con sensores en los baños.
• Mantener las puertas abiertas tanto como sea posible para reducir la necesidad de tocar manillas, paneles, etc.

Disposiciones en la sala de cine:

• El período de tiempo entre sesiones se extiende para permitir una desinfección completa antes de que llegue la próxima audiencia.
• Los asientos, tanto en ancho como a lo largo, se dejan vacíos siguiendo una forma de tablero de ajedrez para permitir un mayor distanciamiento.
• Asientos protegidos: por ejemplo, la instalación de protectores de plexiglás entre / alrededor de los asientos.
• Se puede permitir que las unidades familiares de hasta cuatro personas se sienten juntas en Dubai, suponiendo que se hayan aislado juntas.
• Los cines de lujo a menudo ya están configurados de una manera que permite un distanciamiento social suficiente, pero el servicio de camareros no será posible.
• Gestionar los procesos de salida (tal vez por filas) para que las personas salgan de las salas de manera escalonada para evitar que se produzcan los cuellos de botella en las puertas.

David Wallace (B.Arch. Dip. Arch, RIBA)

Director, UK and Dubai

David joined Chapman Taylor’s London studio as a Director in 2015 and leads our work in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

He has over 25 years’ experience working internationally in the cinema sector, as well as the fast-moving Chinese hospitality market.

He has an established track-record and reputation for good design with an ability to deliver projects on time and to budget.

Areas of expertise:

Leisure / Hospitality

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