How the pandemic is rethinking cinemas

The entertainment industry in South Africa has been hit hard by the pandemic. Cinemas are one of many casualties with each adjusted lockdown. But just like the music industry evolved, cinemas and the music industry must adapt to survive.

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In response to questions from The Daily Vox, Chantelle Burrows, Nu-Metro’s marketing and content executive, said the closure of cinemas in 2020 negatively impacted revenue generation. The recent adjusted level four closures from June 28 was a further blow, said Burrows. 

South Africa’s other major cinema company, Ster Kinekor entered into business rescue at the end of January 2021. This was as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that started in March 2020. Since then, cinemas have been operating under various forms of restrictions, curfews and limits to the number of guests per auditorium. 

Burrows says the global cinema industry will experience an increase in attendance once the world returns to relative normality. There is a demand by consumers who have been in isolation for shared out-of-home entertainment, in a safe environment, she said. There is also the drawcard of several blockbusters releasing in the coming months, Burrows said. These include No Time To Die, the new James Bond film and Marvel’s Black Widow.

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However, even with the demand by consumers, there is no telling what will happen if South Africa enters into another restrictive lockdown. This is something the cinema industry and cinema-goers are likely hoping against. It amplifies the need for preventative measures. Relying on the nostalgia of cinemas is not enough. 

Innovation needs to be considered

Burrows said the main challenge is the limits on business potential, and resources due to pandemic regulations. Nu-Metro has investigated the feasibility of the drive-in concept, but investment costs and other risks made them decide against it, Burrows said.

Ster Kinekor has been running a drive-in with the Sandton city mall in Johannesburg for the past two months. The Galileo cinema in Cape Town also runs drive-in movie experiences, under strict Covid-19 safety regulations. 

Ster Kinekor hopes to publish a business rescue plan by the end of July 2021. Nu-Metros cinemas nationwide will reopen from July 30, in line with a responsible trading strategy under Covid-19 lockdown regulations.


In times of crisis, the time is always ripe to innovate, and save jobs at the same time. 

There is no escaping the world of content streaming. Film festivals have adapted quickly by introducing new releases onlineSouth Africans have a platter of streaming content choices available to them. With subscription plans like R39 a month from Netflix, cinemas have to step up their game. 

There is no doubt the pandemic disrupted the supply chain from producers, film distributors, and cinemas. Nu-Metro and Ster Kinekor have existing digital applications for booking movie tickets. These apps can be modified to allow for once-off streaming. This is the perfect opportunity to compete in the market and retain the exclusivity of new releases that many content sites might not have the licensing for. Large cinema chains need to rethink and repurpose movie distribution. 

Retaining and retraining cinema staff in the digital world is another positive act that can take place. Employment can be secured by empowering staff with new skills, like maintenance of the application’s customer engagement. There will still be that personal touch of engaging with ushers digitally. 

Of course this does not factor in the “nostalgia element”. This alone might be one of cinemas biggest saving graces. “Seeing films on the big screen with quality sound in a way that can’t be duplicated at home. The smell of popcorn, and all the other signature features have made going to the movies such a magical experience for generations of cinemagoers,” Burrows said. 

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Re-creating the cinema experience at home is an option. Partnering with an online shopping network to rent out projectors for use at home, can give the big screen experience. Popcorn and the requisite snacks can lead to a partnership with a delivery service like Uber Eats . Tickets and snacks can still be sold without the loss of patrons walking through the cinema doors. 

How are other countries doing it

It has been suggested in the United States that in order to save cinema chains it needs new ownership to manage the entire consumer entertainment experience. This can only be achieved by the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Studios will be able to infuse theaters with needed cash, and give audiences the ability to see films when, where, and how they prefer. Some cinema chains in the United States have made films available for streaming on their sites as a way to remain engaged with customers.

“Who knows if movie theatres will survive or if we will all be watching everything on streaming services or what a possible blend of the two would be like. I think, in the end, the audience will decide,” Javier Ronceros, an actor and filmmaker has said. 

The future of “going to the movies” is too precarious to second guess on new ideas. Cinemas need to re-imagine the experience or see the final credits roll up.

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