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Cinemas adapting to survive with rise of streaming, Covid-19 struggles

Cinemas hit hard by Covid-19 are calling for more Government support so audiences can return to the theatre when more blockbusters hit our shores.

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Cinemas say while they’re doing everything they can to keep doors open, they need more support. Source: 1 NEWS

By Larissa Howie

Auckland’s Academy Cinema has faced a major financial loss over the past year, fearing another lockdown could cause permanent closure.

"We're going to work very hard to make sure we can keep our doors open, but it's very on the edge for us,” says The Academy’s General Manager Gorjan Markovski.

He wants the Government to provide support to live cinema to ensure venues survive the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Academy Cinemas in Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS

"Where can they help alleviate some of the pain in stuff like commercial rents?"

Wellington's Roxy Cinema is also asking for some type of support from the Government.

"People just assume that cinemas are always going to be there and cinemas will never die, but the reality is that cinemas are so expensive,” says The Roxy Cinema project manager Annabelle Snelling.

She says there has been a decline in attendees due to a lack of new content, and the cinema is currently operating at a loss.

“We've been working our butts off to do everything we can to make sure the building doesn't close.”

She is also calling for the Government to offer more support for live cinemas.

"We don't get that sort of support and it's hard, we have to pretty much have to rely on incredible owners," she says.

Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage Carmel Sepuloni told 1 NEWS she is closely monitoring the situation of cinemas and has sought advice accordingly.

Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni. Source: 1 NEWS

She says Creative New Zealand provided funding through its Arts Continuity Grant to support theatre, dance and multi-disciplinary projects.

Manager at Auckland Screen Alliance Felicity Letcher says she would like to see support being rolled out faster, and in a more coordinated way.

“I think it’s about enabling those companies to access the support that is already there and making sure they know where the support is already,” she says.

How are cinemas future-proofing?

The Roxy Cinema in Wellington. Source: 1 NEWS

Auckland’s Academy Cinema, and Wellington’s Roxy Cinema have both introduced On Demand websites to future-proof for changing viewing habits in the face of Covid-19.

Letcher says the move is “meeting where the market is".

“People are in their homes, they're still wanting to watch movies so you have to go where the people are. ... That happens to be streaming.”

She says while viewing habits have changed, people tended to get their content from more than one place, including streaming from home and physically going out to the movies.

She says Netflix releasing a new movie each week indicates how much viewing habits have changed.

"You'd watch one episode a week traditionally. ... With Netflix and Hulu you're able to binge watch."

Letcher says she disagrees with the notion of cinema dying at the hands of streaming.

"That's kinda like saying it would kill live performance."

But, she thinks cinema business models require a shake up.

"Maybe the big chains will start to move to more interactive experiences as part of their model."

Bounceback for cinemas?

Industry experts predict a “bounceback” for live cinemas when more Blockbuster films hit New Zealand shores towards the middle of the year.

Global cinema software supplier Vista says they had a dip in profitability due to movie theatres being shut. Therefore, it's unable to make payments.

It reported a loss of nearly $57 million, compared to a profit of $12.8 million in 2019.

Vista Chief Executive Kimbal Riley says as the world opens back up, he predicts people will return to live cinema experiences.

“When we start to see the real big Hollywood content flow, that'll flow through into New Zealand as well as it does across the world,” he says.

He believes streaming is a part of the world we live in, saying it will fit alongside cinema.

“People who like to consume content, like to consume a lot of content, and they see it in multiple formats.”

He is optimistic about the future, but says people should get out and support their local cinema.