CEO of Regal Cinemas owner on closing movie theaters during pandemic

Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger told CNBC on Monday the theater chain made the decision to close its U.S. and U.K. locations because there are not enough blockbuster movies being released to attract attendees during the pandemic. 

“We are now like a kind of a grocery shop that have no food to sell,” Greidinger said on “Squawk Alley.” 

The parent of Regal Cinemas will temporarily shutter its more than 500 U.S. theaters Thursday, as well as its 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse locations in the U.K. Greidinger did not say when the locations will reopen, but right now, he said, “It’s better for us to wait.” 

“Might be a month, might be two months, until the … Covid-19 situation will be clearer. Maybe there will already be a vaccination,” he said. “It might take another month, but at the end of the day, we must have a clear lineup of movies before we reopen.” 

Cineworld’s decision comes days after the release of the newest James Bond movie was again pushed back, this time to April 2021. It had initially been scheduled to debut in April of this year before the coronavirus pandemic upended the entertainment industry, leading to theater closures, production shutdowns and a host of release delays. 

Shares of Cineworld, which trade on the London Stock Exchange, were down more than 30% Monday. The decision by the world’s second-largest theater chain put pressure on the stock of its chief rival, AMC Entertainment, which saw its shares fall by about 10% intraday. 

The James Bond film delay was not the only reason Cineworld decided to roll back its reopening in the U.S. and U.K., Greidinger said. One factor weighing on the entire movie industry — from the studios to the theater operators — are the operating restrictions in New York state and California, he said. 

In California, whether theaters can be open for indoor showings depends on the severity of coronavirus transmission on a county-by-county basis. As of Monday, indoor movies are not allowed in Los Angeles County, home to Hollywood. 

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sept. 16 the state would continue to keep theaters and concert venues closed, citing concerns of an uptick in Covid-19 cases, according to the Albany Business Review

New York and California are the two biggest movie markets in the U.S., Greidinger said. He added he doesn’t really blame the studios for waiting to release blockbuster films with those markets entirely, or even partially, closed.

The challenge facing movie theater operators in the U.S. right now is a “classic” the-chicken-or-the-egg scenario, Greidinger said. “But here, the chicken and the egg have one trigger, and we need to have back the big states that are still not open,” he said, wondering why New York has allowed partial indoor dining but not movie theaters. 

Greidinger contended there has been strong attendance in some European markets where big movies were released, such as in Poland and Hungary. In August, he told CNBC there was initially strong demand — relatively speaking, due to capacity restrictions — when U.S. theaters reopened. 

“People really missed the cinemas and wanted to go back into the big screen,” the chief executive said Aug. 27. 

On Monday, however, Greidinger stressed the difficulty of attracting people to the theater without a blockbuster film on the marquee. “The oldies are nice,” he said. But “we need to have back the big movies and the new movies.” 

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