By Kate Holton, Aakriti Bhalla
LONDON (Reuters) – Cineworld, the world’s second-biggest cinema operator, said it was considering temporarily closing all its screens in the United States and Britain after studios pulled major releases such as the latest James Bond film.
The Regal cinema owner, which began reopening in July after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions started to ease, employs 37,482 people across 787 venues in the U.S., Britain and central Europe, with 546 sites in America.
“We can confirm we are considering the temporary closure of our U.K. and US cinemas, but a final decision has not yet been reached. Once a decision has been made we will update all staff and customers as soon as we can,” the company said.
Earlier, a person familiar with the situation had gone further, saying Cineworld would close all its U.S., UK and Ireland screens this week.
The release of the new James Bond movie, “No Time To Die”, was pushed into next year on Friday, crushing hopes for a 2020 industry rebound as rising rates of the coronavirus prompt new restrictions and keep viewers away.
Britain’s Sunday Times said the London-listed company had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Culture Minister Oliver Dowden to warn that the industry was becoming unviable.
It warned investors on Sept. 24 that it might need to raise more money if its sites were forced to shut again, after it swung to a $1.64 billion first-half loss. Its shares have fallen 82% this year.
Efforts to get audiences back into theaters have proved disappointing. While bigger chains like AMC Entertainment, Cineworld and others have reopened many locations, crowds have been thin. Small and mid-sized theater companies have said they may not survive the impact of the pandemic.
Cineworld had said viewers returned to watch “Tenet”, a Christopher Nolan spy thriller that became a test case for the wider industry when it became the biggest release to open in cinemas in late August since schedules were torn up in March.
But the postponement of Bond, plus delays to other big releases such as superhero movie “Black Widow” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” give cinema lovers little reason to return.
Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru and Kate Holton in London; writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Dan Grebler, Keith Weir and Giles Elgood.