Coronavirus Having ‘No Discernible Impact’ on Theater Chains, Says U.K. Cinema Association

Invisible Man
Photo Credit: Mark Rogers/Univer

U.K. theater chains are keeping calm and carrying on in the face of coronavirus.

While the outbreak of the respiratory virus has wreaked havoc in European countries such as Italy, where around 850 screens had shuttered as of Monday, the U.K. has yet to feel the social impact of the outbreak, with just 164 positive cases as of Friday, compared to Italy’s nearly 4,000 patients.

Speaking on behalf of theater chains such as Odeon, Picturehouse and Vue, Phil Clapp, president of the U.K. Cinema Association, told Variety that the organization is currently following government guidance, with all sites remaining open and operating on a “’business as usual’ basis.”

“It’s definitely a developing picture, but we’re not seeing any discernible impact in terms of cinema admissions across the piece,” said Clapp, noting that guidance from U.K. government has yet to restrict public gatherings of any kind.

The executive noted that theater admissions have been roughly 20% above 2019 figures for three weeks straight. Last weekend, the Elisabeth Moss-starring “The Invisible Man” grossed £2.16 million ($2.82 million) at the U.K. and Ireland box office, with “Sonic the Hedgehog” following with £1.93 million ($2.52 million).

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” broke records when it opened in the U.K. in early February following its Best Picture Oscar win, drawing £1.4 million ($1.81 million) in its opening weekend. To date, the Korean tragicomedy has grossed £10.36 million ($13.28 million) in the U.K.

Cineworld, which operates Regal and Picturehouse, updated shareholders on Friday, highlighting that the business has “not observed any material impact” on theater admissions due to COVID-19.

“Following an increase in admissions in the first two months of the year against the same period in the previous year, we continue to see good levels of admissions in all our territories, despite the reported spread of COVID-19,” reads a market memo.

“Although the release of the new ‘Bond’ movie has been postponed to November 2020 largely due to closure of cinemas in the Asian markets, the studios have advised us that in the countries in which we operate, they currently remain committed to their release schedule for the coming months and remainder of the year.”

Cineworld said it is, however, “taking measures” to prepare the business.

“Should conditions relating to COVID-19 continue or worsen, we have measures at our disposal to reduce the impact on our business including, but not limited to, capex postponement and cost reduction.”

The firm accompanied its statement with financials for the year ending Dec. 31, ahead of its audited earnings announcement on March 12. Cineworld posted revenues of $4.37 million and adjusted EBITDA of $1.03 million. Net debt, excluding lease liabilities, was $3.48 million.

Despite the trend of steady admissions, cases of coronavirus have been gradually on the rise in the U.K. in recent days, with the country’s first two deaths — two seniors with underlying health conditions — reported Friday. This weekend could mark a turning point for local cinema chains, particularly if the U.K. government escalates warnings against large social gatherings.