Movie Theater Industry Works To Pivot, Stay Afloat During COVID-19

The smell of buttery popcorn and light chatter fill the cool theater as viewers wait for the lights to dim. People move their legs out of the way while others search for the perfect seat. The audience bonds as they giggle at the funny scenes and cry at the sad. 

Once the pandemic began, though, these sights and sounds have ended. Many movie theaters closed. Unfortunately, movie theaters and other creative industries like museums and fashion have taken such a hard hit at the local and national levels that they might not recover after having to close and streaming services taking over.

According to Richard Neupert, a film professor at the University of Georgia and board member at Ciné movie house, said certain middle-range theaters might not live past the pandemic, although those at the ends of the spectrum will reopen 

“The big theatres like IMAX are going to be fine. Small art houses like Ciné that have a sense of community and aim at movies that otherwise people might not know about (indie films) might be okay, too,” Neupert said.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Movie theaters, and many other businesses, are closing due to COVID-19 in the Athens area and nationwide with no sign of reopening anytime soon. 


A study performed by The Brookings Institution estimated that 2.7 million jobs were lost in four months between April 1 through to July 31, 2020, in the creative industries. The study also found an estimated loss of more than 2.3 million jobs and $74 billion in average monthly earnings for the creative occupations. While many metropolitan areas have been impacted, the South is estimated to be affected the most in losses in employment for creative industries and occupations. 

Many believe the theater industry won’t return after the large financial hit it has taken during COVID-19. AMC, one of the world’s largest theater chains, lost $901 million since the beginning of the pandemic and was on the verge of bankruptcy in November, according to Business Insider. Other theater chains aren’t far behind. Cinemark, the third-largest cinema chain, saw a nearly 96% drop in revenue since the beginning of the pandemic. It is unsafe for people to sit near each other, which becomes problematic when discussing a business that relies on that type of human interaction. 

In Athens, Georgia, the AMC theater located on Lexington Road, which was known for its dining experience, closed in September due to COVID-19, directing its customers to its next nearest location in Bethlehem, Georgia, according to the AMC website. This leaves Athens with very few options for screenings.

“My guess is that what’s going to happen is that movie theaters are going to become increasingly niche,” Jay Hamilton, Entertainment and Media Studies professor at UGA, said. “It’s going to be a special thing.”

Safety Guidelines in Movie Theaters

Many theaters have started to open just to stay in business and are trying to follow the guidelines laid out for them. The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) created safety protocols designed for theaters, including limiting concessions, wearing face coverings, and making hand sanitizer more accessible. While all this is helpful, it is still dangerous to attend theaters, according to medical experts

According to Healthline, a health information website, there is still a potential to transmit COVID-19 when people remove their face coverings to eat sweets, drink soda or even laugh at a comedy. But some smaller theaters have started to do private screenings to make viewers even safer. 

Richard Neupert said Ciné is operating under strict guidelines to still show viewers the films that they love. 

“So they’re having careful protocols, everybody walking in the door gets their temperature taken, just like you go into a doctor’s office, and you can order popcorn and stuff. And they’ve got a system where people work in masks and gloves, and we’ll put it on a table for you,” said Neupert.

Ciné is also providing virtual cinema options for people who prefer to say at home. They’ve chosen a variety of indie films like 17 Blocks or Sin (Il Peccato) and explain how to view them using Roku or other streaming sites on their website. Ciné has partnered with Eventive, an independent film streaming service, to allow its viewers to stream chosen films with their phone, television or tablet. Ciné has chosen certain films and viewers can unlock them in Eventive after paying a fee. After unlocking, they have 14 days to watch the unique film.

Future of Movie Theaters

U.S. Deloitte’s Digital Media Trends questioned their consumers whether they would feel comfortable attending theaters within the next month, and 71% of them said no, they wouldn’t. Only 18% of their consumers had gone to the movies during the pandemic. But many Americans have no desire to attend theaters right now. According to the Deloitte study, 35% of consumers said they will definitely or “probably” come to see new movies in theaters post-pandemic.

Of course, nobody knows when that will be.

Megan Grantier is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.



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