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The NI Cinema scene in dire straits

Published: 4th February 2021 11:01

Some of the top operators in the movie market in Northern Ireland have warned that local cinemas face an unprecedented hurdle in light of the current pandemic situation 

Some of the top operators in the movie market in Northern Ireland have warned that local cinemas face an unprecedented hurdle in light of the current pandemic situation. Restrictions in the operation of cinemas had already been deemed difficult, with less and less demand from customers, who would have seen going to the cinema as ‘risky’. Forced closures then ensued, completely scuttling the operation of cinemas throughout the country. With many films scheduled for 2021 delayed, cinemas see no point in opening their doors since there is no new product for them to show.

Mid-June to July is a frequently mentioned time for reopening, however sources equivocally lament how the market for cinema is not in good shape, with entertainment sector executives opening up on the issue. A major NI cinema operator that operates 10 NI outlets and 18 in ROI, showed his disappointment at how NI executive ignored the cinema sector. Places like cinemas in ROI also have gaming equipment that attract people from all around, however after coronavirus closures, online casinos like comeoncasino.com have surged, leaving physical machines at rest. After a very bad 10 months and being hit with a 92% difference in revenue in the last three quarters of the year (when compared to the year before), certain disappointment is understood.

Some cinemas reported success showing classic movies during Christmastime, however it is unarguable that it is not sustainable. One owner that utilized this tactic, Michael McAdam, says that the success before the lockdown might not reciprocate for older films, as those may have been ‘burnt out’. This may be one way of stitching the break, but with big blockbusters getting delayed two and three times over, the light might not really be at the end of the tunnel - cinemas will simply not have any material to put out. Despite the situation, McAdam says that he is hopeful that after these tough times, people will gather again at cinemas to watch the major 2021 releases like Top Gun and James Bond, and says that he is excited for the day when customers can come again.

Like many industries, key players from the field come out to express the need for more government help, especially for ‘forgotten’ sectors by the bills passed. East Belfast Arts Center chief executive Mimi Turtle says that the income from cinema sales at The Strand is the only pillar to fund the rest of the center’s art and community works.

Unfortunately for these cinemas, their nab at a 26-million-pound package ‘to support tourism businesses’ was unsuccessful, as these funds were specifically designed to support larger companies and businesses. Despite picture houses not being eligible for the funds, as they are leisure and entertainment, these were referred to the Arts Council Stability and Renewal Programme for Organisations. Cinemas are also businesses that fall short of the 50-thousand-pound net annual value, but with high maintenance costs, it makes for a tricky situation. Some outlets have applied for these funds however, due to high demand, final decisions have been delayed. Quite likely an announcement is to be made round about the 8th of February, according to a source from one of these companies.



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