While the government is looking to let cinemas reopen in the third phase of unlocking, the question is are theatres ready?
From safety precautions, maintenance, programming to manpower, theatres will have to look at a lot of aspects before restarting and all of this will have cost implications as well.
According to Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta, A2 Cinemas, cost of operations for restarting cinemas is likely to go up somewhere between 20 percent and 35 percent considering present scenarios.
“Getting the cinemas ready for our audience will involve complete sanitization, efficient pest control and deep sanitization measures,” he said.
Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure said, "From a restarting and reopening perspective, we are going to witness an increase in our operating expenditures as we have planned significant investments on COVID preventive measures and the enhanced hygiene protocols."
But he added that "these expenditures will be like investments towards building customer trust."
PVR CEO Gautam Dutta also said while the cost is substantial for safety and maintenance, over a period of time many other costs will not be there. Hence, he sees no dent in business.
In fact, he said once cinemas receive order to restart operations, PVR chains will take around three to five days to be up and running.
But will the scenario be the same for other exhibitors, especially single-screen owners?
Preetham Daniel, Senior Vice-President, Asia, Harkness Screens, throws light on some of the problems many exhibitors are already facing.
“A lot of single-screen cinemas have been able to take a look at their properties due to easing of lockdown in many places. We have got enquiries for around 15-18 screens that needs replacement because they have been damaged due to humidity. There is mold growing on them because the theatres were sealed and they needed air conditioning. If screens are getting mold, so will carpets, seating, side curtains. Hence, getting back will not be easy,” he explained.
An average screen cost could go up to Rs 3 lakh.
“For single screens, raising money will be another issue. Getting back in business will be like starting a new business,” said Daniel.
He added, “Due to high humidity levels and with no air conditioning, there is sweating inside a projector. The projector generates sweat because of the heat and that water is bad for any electronic device. This can happen with speakers also.”
Plus, with migrant workers going back to their hometowns, many theatres will face manpower shortage.
“There is fight for content, manpower is an issue, software is an issue. Programming also becomes difficult. There is curfew after 9pm. So, what time do you end your last show? Lucrative shows were the late evening and late-night shows which would get the highest attendance,” he added.
While cinema chains like PVR are prepared in terms of staggered seating, things aren’t the same for single screens.
"Seat mapping online will be difficult for staggered seating. Let alone the cost, the knowledge is not there. While multiplex chains are able to do it, what about single screens?" asked Daniel.
As for PVR, Dutta said, “We have spoken to our software engineers. Whenever tickets are booked automatically, seats in between will be left. First couple of weeks will be low occupancy as new films will take time to warm up. So, the system automatically will push you far away. While a system will suggest, people themselves will book seats far away.”
In terms of maintenance, Dutta said their wake-up alarm was a WhatsApp forward of pictures of an international theatre property where there were molds on seating.
“We had seen the pictures roughly about 145 days back. After that, we took special permission and we went into all our cinemas. Every week, three to four housekeeping staff along with one manager visits the cinemas for basic checks and cleaning,” he said.
According to Puri, “It's been a long and testing time for most cinema businesses and to get back into the game will require a fair sense of strategy and system.”