As Wisconsin faces off against another increase in COVID-19 cases and braces for the omicron variant, a new offering from Marcus Theaters may seem even more alluring.
The Milwaukee-based movie chain recently started offering vaccine exposures only in select cinemas, including Ridge Cinema in New Berlin and North Shore Cinema in Mequon.
Marcus Corp. CEO Greg Marcus said he heard that potential moviegoers wanted to return to the movies but were afraid of exposure to COVID-19. The company requires its theater workers to wear masks, but moviegoers are only subject to local ordinances, very few of which still include mask warrants.
âWe said, ‘Well, maybe if we created show times just for the vaccinated people, maybe it would lead to more business. âAnd that’s what we did. And we’re trying to see if it works,â Marcus said.
And so far, things are going well. Although he would not share attendance figures, Marcus said the first few weeks have been encouraging.
âWe’ve had people show up. I’ll say it,â Marcus said. âThey weren’t empty.
The company sees this as a pilot program and is watching closely to determine when and where to expand. From friday, they added the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie.
The participating cinemas offer two daily vaccine screenings only – in the afternoon and in the evening – of two different films.
They started with “King Richard” and “Ghostbusters; Afterlife”, hoping to attract the more reluctant older audiences, but recently added “House of Gucci” and “The Eternals”.
âWe watch it every day and we watch it every week and we’ll see what happens,â Marcus said.
But the cinemas have fallen behind.
Media consultant Brad Adgate said he was surprised more and more cinemas didn’t need vaccines, especially as the busy holiday movie season approached.
âYou are sitting with a bunch of strangers,â Adgate said. “You don’t know who is around you, what their status is in terms of vaccination or wearing a mask or if they have had COVID.”
Adgate said part of the problem is how COVID-19 vaccines have become politicized – warrants can lead to backlash or legal action in some cases.
âI think maybe they just don’t want to get in the middle of this,â Adgate said.
AMC and Regal officials declined to be interviewed for this story.
Marcus said his company sees itself as an innovator, unafraid to take risks with new ideas. But they still cover their bases. He said they have enough screens to simultaneously broadcast a general admission and a vaccine-only screening of the same film. And he compared it to accessibility.
âWe have disabled parking spaces and we have regular parking spaces, but there is room for everyone,â Marcus said.
But Marcus said it was ultimately a business decision. With vaccines widely available and most production companies operating, the movie industry is slowly recovering, but experts say it will be a long and hard battle.
Global box office sales have plummeted 72 percent during the pandemic, from a record $ 42.3 billion in 2019 to $ 12 billion in 2020. And looking only at the United States and Canada, this drop has been even more significant – a 82 percent free fall from $ 11.32 billion in 2019 to $ 2.09 billion in 2020. According to Adgate, even DVD and Blu-ray sales generated more revenue last year than theaters.
âThere is still a long way to go to capture what it has been, when box offices have steadily surpassed $ 10 billion for the total year,â Adgate said.
But 2021 promises to be stronger. The Marcus Corp. – which also operates hotels – saw their first profitable quarter since the pandemic. Admission to the theater for the third trimester alone increased from $ 3.1 million in 2020 to $ 38.2 million in 2021. And dealership sales have grown from $ 3.2 million to nearly $ 36 million.
But they still haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels, which is why tactics like vaccine-only screenings might be key to attracting as much business as possible.
Theater companies are also battling the wind in a changing industry.
In 2020, subscriptions to home streaming services like Netflix and Disney + skyrockets, accelerating a trend that was already underway before the pandemic.
“I think we have taken the leap,” Adgate said. “I think people have become very comfortable staying at home and watching content.”
Additionally, Adgate says the rising cost of going to the movies has become a deterrent for many people. Admission and concessions can cost over $ 20, while an unlimited service like Netflix costs around $ 10 per month.
âI think 2022 will be better than 2021. But will it ever go back to what it was before the pandemic? I think there are a lot of reasons that won’t happen,â Adgate said. “That doesn’t mean movie theaters are going to go away. It’ll just be a different business model.”
And many experts agree that going to the movies will look a little different moving forward. Beyond the mandates of vaccines or masks, cinemas have moved to an increasingly digital and contactless ticket and concession model. Rentals of private theaters – which became popular during the pandemic – will likely continue. And as movie theater owners keep audiences not only coming back, but coming back more frequently, the loyalty programs and perks could be significant.
For now, Marcus has said the goal is only to remind people what it’s like to go to the movies.
âGoing to the movies is a different experience than watching something that bump on the couch,â Marcus said.
He returned there for the first time this spring, after being vaccinated. When the lights went out he realized he wasn’t distracted by his phone, the sound was great, and the screen was much larger than his own TV.
âYou really pay attention and get drawn into the movie,â Marcus said. “It’s so easy to forget until you start over.”