Months after closing its 600+ US-based locations at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, AMC Theaters now has a plan to start reopening. The theater giant is looking to turn the popcorn machine back on in 450 locations on July 15th, and it’s hoping to open even more theaters in the weeks that follow. That move will allow it time to get back into the rhythm of service prior to the major releases still on the calendar in late July.
The plan was rolled out earlier today, and it’s similar to what we’ve seen from competitors Regal and Cinemark. All seem to be looking toward Mulan on July 24th and Tenet on July 31st, the latter of which was recently moved back two weeks. The announcement comes after weeks of speculation surrounding when the major theater chains would reopen.
*UPDATE: AMC Theatres has reversed course and is now requiring all customers to wear masks when its theaters reopen next month. The rest of the original article continues below. *
Not all of the details surrounding safety and protocols have been released, but thanks to an interview AMC’s CEO Adam Aron gave to Variety, we know some of the specifics. The chain will require employees to wear masks, but it will only “strongly encourage” it from customers, except in locations in which mask wearing is required by law, which is similar to what we've heard from other chains. New ones will also be available for purchase for $1. AMC will also introduce specialty vacuums, new ventilation filters and electrostatic sprayers. Every other row of theater seats will be blocked off. There will be extra time between screenings to allow for additional seating, and foot traffic will be directed one way.
The initial plan is to sell 30% of seats to any given showing, but if all goes according to plan, AMC would like to see that number raised to 50% by the end of the summer. If there are not any complications, Thanksgiving is the target date for full capacity. The theater chain also says it will be encouraging people to buy tickets online or from kiosks when possible. That will help prevent unnecessary interaction.
At this point, what plays out from here is extremely unclear. No one is quite sure what theater attendance will look like in the short-term, and studios will be analyzing box office returns as they make decisions about when to release upcoming films and how to have those delicate conversations with theater companies. Throw in the uncertain trajectory of Covid-19 moving forward, and there are just way too many question marks to guess what the theater business may look like in 6 months. It could be similar to what we saw prior to shutdowns or it could look dramatically different than it did before.
The return to theaters will be accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign to raise general awareness across the entire industry. Beyond that, AMC will also launch its own promotions to help inform potential customers of all the safety measures it is putting in place. Now we just have to wait and see who shows up.
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