Major films and hundreds of employees are returning to Regal
Movies heading back to the big screen means hundreds of Knoxville employees could be heading back to work.
Cineworld, the parent company of Knoxville-based Regal Cinemas, announced that a phased reopening is in the works for its U.S. theaters, beginning with a limited number of theaters returning April 2 for the release of "Godzilla vs. Kong."
Richard Grover, spokesperson for Regal, told Knox News the Regal Pinnacle theater in Turkey Creek is among the theaters opening April 2.
Reopening dates for other Knoxville theaters have not been announced.
Cinebarre at West Town Mall should look slightly different once it reopens, as locations with restaurants and in-theater ordering will not be offering these services for the time being.
However, locations with bars will allow walk-up service, according to Regal.
What's different this time?
Regal was forced to close theater doors for the first time in March 2020 as COVID-19 began to run rampant in the U.S.
Knox News previously reported the company furloughed 40,000 U.S. employees and temporarily closed most of its theaters after a short-lived reopening from August to October.
Theaters struggled to find films to play during reopening phases.
"It is a burning dumpster of a box office," Jeff Bock, a senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co., said about the movie industry at-large in his Oct. 10 industry podcast.
At that point in 2020, Bock added, the week-over-week box office take was at 6% compared to 2019.
Meanwhile, studios reacted to theater shutdowns by releasing movies straight to streaming.
It begs the question: What will make this reopening any different?
Cineworld has struck a new deal with Warner Bros. Pictures Group to give films an exclusive 45 days in theaters before moving to other platforms. This shortened theatrical release window will begin in 2022, as Warner Bros. already has plans to stream 2021 films.
"This agreement shows the studio's commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros.," Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a news release.
Expecting success as employees return
This phased reopening certainly is good news for Regal employees in Knoxville, both corporate and theater-level.
The company reported 664 employees, more than 443 of them full-time, in the Knoxville area in 2020, according to the Knox.biz Book of Lists. The number includes in-theater and corporate employees. It's Knoxville's 74th largest employer.
As COVID-19 restrictions loosen across the country, Cineworld is confident in its ability to find success as employees return to work.
"With capacity restrictions expanding to 50% or more across most U.S. states, we will be able to operate profitably in our biggest markets," Greidinger said.
Greidinger also emphasized health and safety for staff and moviegoers as the company's "top priority."
What did the last reopening look like?
When two local Regal theaters reopened in August, Knox News visited to see COVID-19 policies in place.
Regal encouraged moviegoers to purchase tickets through the app to avoid lines in the lobby. Sanitation efforts were implemented, and certain areas were marked off to keep people from congregating and interacting with high-touch surfaces.
The reopening happened simultaneously with the reveal of major renovations to Regal's Pinnacle theater in Turkey Creek.
Updated policies on regmovies.com give an idea of what this next return to theaters could look like.
Just like the previous reopening, seats will be assigned in theaters that have reservation systems. Two seats will be maintained between groups at regular theaters to maintain social distancing. "Recliner locations" will only have one seat between groups, according to the website.
Theaters without reservations will rely on moviegoers to keep two seats between groups, and masks will be required throughout the entire building. The only exception is when actively eating and drinking while seated in the auditorium.
Food and drinks will be available, but every other register will be closed at the concession stands. Self-service condiment stands also will be closed, and refills will be given in new containers.
Upon closing theaters Oct. 8, Regal said payments for Regal Unlimited passes would be frozen and subscriptions would be extended by the number of days theaters are closed.
A 'challenging' landscape for theaters
- Christopher Hamilton, a film professor at Syracuse University, previously told Knox News theater closures and movie postponements have sped up consumer habits that were already trending toward video on demand and small-screen experiences.
Cineworld emphasized the industry's resilience over VHS tapes and DVDs during a September investors report, stating the company believes "cinema provides a clearly differentiated proposition" compared to streaming and other forms of at-home viewing.
After "Godzilla vs. Kong" is released April 2, the phased reopening will go "wider" with "Mortal Kombat" on April 16, the release said.
Cineworld has plans to reopen theaters in the U.K. starting in May.
"With a dynamic slate of films scheduled to release this spring and summer, Regal will welcome back audiences after an extended closure in response to an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape," the release said. "With its reopening, Regal will once again operate as one of the largest and most geographically diverse theatre circuits in the U.S."
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Ryan Wilusz and Brenna McDermott
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Published March 25, 2021