Disney’s global distribution president Cathleen Taff said cinemas will need to “over-deliver” when they reopen, but that the “at-home experience” is not sustainable in the long term.
Speaking at a virtual CineEurope panel on Wednesday, the executive revealed she was bracing for “a little skepticism” about the process of reopening movie theaters. “The challenge for us as a production company is that films are going to have to stand out,” she said.
“[Audiences] want to dip into it, and so we are going to have to over-deliver on why people are going in the first place,” said Taff. “It has got to be an immersive story; it has got to have characters they connect to emotionally, and then have that shared community experience they can talk about, laugh about and cry about and feel that it was exceptional for them to come back again and again.”
One of the first tentpole theatrical releases after cinemas open is going to be Disney’s live-action version of “Mulan,” which is set for release on July 24.
“I think that all signs are good, and people want to return. I think what we’re seeing is that the at-home experience isn’t enough,” Taff added. Disney’s major VOD gamble during the COVID-19 period was family adventure “Artemis Fowl,” which skipped its May 29 theatrical release and went straight to the studio’s streaming platform Disney Plus last week.
“People want to get back out there, they want to go see good entertainment in a safe environment. If we deliver on that, people are going to want to come back again and again,” said Taff.
Despite their forays into VOD over the last three months, the world’s leading studios and exhibitors proved to be bullish about the resilience of the theatrical business and audiences returning to cinemas, as was made clear in the CineEurope session.
Steven O’Dell, president of Sony Pictures, said, “What you can feel is that you can have the biggest television that can be in the house, and people are pulling out their hair to get outside.” Eddy Duquenne, CEO of Europe’s Kinepolis cinema chain, underlined the point, noting that movie theaters that have reopened in Luxembourg and Switzerland are seeing brisk business.
“We are social beasts, this is what humans are. We’re meant to embrace each other and socialize with each other. Movies do that,” declared O’Dell. “Every time someone discounts the movie business, we come through with flying colors, and this is going to be no different.”
Most of Sony’s marquee titles have shifted to 2021 dates.
“Distribution companies and exhibition companies need to assess what success is going to look like,” said Disney’s Taff.
“Initially it is not going to be the same, so we’ve got to make sure expectations are based on reality and the good news is that lots of the levers that consumers are wanting are all in our control. They want the social distancing, they want the disinfectant and the sanitizing, but not feel overwhelmed by it.”
Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld, the world’s second largest cinema chain, said that health and safety measures are crucial for both the cinema teams and customers.
“But we are very careful not to overdo it,” said Greidinger, who believes most customers will now be aware of what they need to be careful of and how to maintain social distancing.
“We don’t want to create a hospital atmosphere in the cinema. We don’t want to be running after the customers at every step.”