The popcorn machines are turned off and cinemas in South Africa remain shut as the country endures Level 4 of the national lockdown period to try and curb the spread of the Covid-19.
But Nu Metro remains optimistic that the seats – with one open in-between – will be filled again and that moviegoers will return for the big screen experience.
Nu Metro in South Africa has been monitoring the unfolding developments of the coronavirus pandemic ever since the alarm was raised early in 2020.
Nu Metro, Ster-Kinekor and independent cinemas across the country at first remained open. However, some independents shut their doors while the bigger chains implemented precautionary measures including moviegoer distancing and increased sanitising regimes until President Cyril Ramaphosa in March announced the total lockdown.
Even before South Africa's national lockdown period began, Nu Metro closely followed the international news around the film industry that was suddenly being impacted by the spread of Covid-19, the global distribution and release disruption and how cinema owners were forced to turn off the projector lights and lock the doors.
In terms of business impact, the negative effects of the pandemic on the cinema industry started surfacing when more and more of the major blockbuster movies' release dates started shifting since the beginning of March, Nu Metro tells Channel24.
"Such changes in release dates from the international film studios had an early knock-on effect for our revenue projections and budget plans," the theatre chain explains.
"Many strategic projects had to be moved out or completely cancelled, with budget already spent on development of such projects. The direct impact locally was felt when government imposed restrictions on public venues just before the hard lockdown was announced."
Nu Metro says that not only did attendances decrease because customers started growing weary of going out in public but that they also implemented social distancing, increased cleaning, enhanced sanitising and other precautionary measures in cinemas to protect its staff and moviegoers' health and safety.
"The social distancing-policy enabled us to limit seating capacity booked per movie show to fit the governmental directives – which of course all had a negative impact on the amount of customers we could serve."
'WE LOOK FORWARD TO REOPENING'
Then came the regulations mandating a nationwide lockdown in South Africa – something usually reserved for the fictional drama of a big-screen Hollywood blockbuster.
"It prompted the immediate closure of all our cinema operations and offices in Southern Africa, and placed a severe limit on our general business potential," Nu Metro says.
"We look forward to reopening our cinemas in the very near future and are ready to implement the same health and safety precautions that were introduced at all Nu Metro cinemas just before the lockdown," says Nu Metro.
Some of the major films moved to later this year include Marvel Studios' Black Widow, Universal's No Time to Die which is the new James Bond movie, Warner Bros' Wonder Woman 1984, Paramount's Top Gun: Maverick, Disney's Mulan and various independent studio titles such as The Secret Garden.
Nu Metro says that all release dates for films are currently tentatively scheduled and are completely dependent on governmental regulations on when cinemas in South Africa can reopen again.
THE MAGIC OF THE MOVIES
"Cinema is an art form, an expression of culture, creativity and the human spirit," says Chantelle Burrows, Nu Metro's marketing and content boss. "It primarily offers an escape from reality with the magic of the movies."
"The day will come when all movie fans can again join in the shared entertainment experience of watching the world's latest and greatest films on the big screen. Nothing can ever replace or substitute the joy of watching a movie in a cinema, with popcorn, drinks, sweets, movie fun, big sound and prime quality visuals on the best screens, and all the other treats which make going to the movies such a social special outing for people of all ages."
"While our cinemas and offices remain closed, some of our head office staff have been working behind the scenes on a standby basis to prepare and plan for the future," says Chantelle Burrows.
"What we miss most are all our devoted movie fans and everyone just looking for that 'going out'-option that is so popular with hundreds of thousands of South Africans, for whom cinema-going is a release from the worries and stresses of the real world."
"When we are allowed to return, Nu Metro remains committed to ensuring the health and safety of everyone craving to again experience the power of the silver screen in our cinemas," she says.
"We've been inundated with messages on our social media platforms during this time – our customers simply can't wait for cinemas to reopen again."