Sky News invited Gower Street’s Director of Theatrical Insights, Rob Mitchell, to discuss the news of Cineworld’s closure and what that meant for the future of cinema on Monday night.
In a segment broadcast live at 7:45pm GMT, Rob was interviewed by Sky News’ anchor Jayne Secker.
Jayne opened by asking if this was “the end of cinema as we know it?”
“It’s definitely not the end, no,” said Rob. “Cinema has gone through a lot of crises through over 100 years now, and it will find a way through this. I think cinema will survive. The worrying thing that we’ve seen today is that, while Cineworld are only closing temporarily and they will be returning, there will be some individual cinemas that will probably not make it through to when distributors are ready to release something.”
This was followed by a question about the staff; that the chains themselves might survive but how would the staff survive with the UK Government’s furlough scheme coming to an end and staff left without a firm date for when their place of employment would re-open.
“I think that everybody’s sympathies really go out to the staff,” said Rob. “We saw right at the beginning of the pandemic that Cineworld were one of the first to react initially in letting go of staff. Then the chancellor’s moves with the furlough scheme meant they were able to be hired back. Now that furlough is coming to an end and these new delays in releases have resulted in Cineworld deciding that they need to close for a period of time I think there’s a big question mark about what can and should be done for the staff. I think the cinema industry as a whole in the UK needs a lot of support from the government. I think that’s something that the BFI may be working on, but obviously this announcement has come quite suddenly following the delay of the James Bond film on Friday and so I think everyone, right now, is reeling from that and trying to figure out what the next steps should be.”
Jayne asked if it was “a little short-sighted” of the Bond franchise to delay, given that while there are some parts of the world where it couldn’t play at the moment there are others, such as the Far East, where life had got “pretty much back to normal and most cinemas are now open.” “So, it could have opened to large parts of the world now and maybe opened to the UK and America at a later date?”
Rob responded that there were “even parts of Europe” that are ready to take it now. “We’ve seen cinemas all over the world reopening. As you say, in the Far East, and China in particular this past weekend just had its biggest grossing weekend since February 2019. And China, obviously, is the #1 international market; this year will almost certainly be the #1 global market. So, I think there are territories that could definitely take the Bond film.”
“I think the biggest concern that the studios are kind of focused on at the moment is the North American market,” Rob continued. “That is causing them to stick to their guns on wanting a day-and-date type of strategy, which the studios have got used to on these big tent-pole releases.”
Rob praised Warner Bros’ alternative approach to the release of TENET in August.
“One of the great things that Warner Bros did with TENET earlier in the year was decide that they weren’t going to take that approach; they would release internationally first, which is quite unusual, and then see how that went,” said Rob.
“I think, unfortunately, a lot of the other studios have seen how that went in the North American market and felt they don’t want to take the same risk, which is a big shame for the cinemas because certainly they are ready, and open; they are COVID-compliant and they’ve spent a lot of money doing that; and ultimately they don’t have that much content to show and that is why they are delaying or re-closing.”