What's Next for Movie Theaters?

Local CEO of one of the world's largest theater chains spoke to NBC 5 about how they're adapting to a new reality with a new event and what's next for the industry

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Even though the state has allowed movie theaters to reopen, most in North Texas – with the exception of drive-ins – remain temporarily closed.

Many theaters are still hammering out social distancing protocols while others are taking a different approach to allow their employees to practice those safety measures.

Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas just rolled out a soft open at their Moviehouse & Eatery locations in Dallas and Austin this past weekend with “quarantine crew” events. People are able to rent out an auditorium space to spread out and watch their own DVDs, play video games or do a graduation slideshow.

'Quarantine Crew' event at Cinépolis allows families or groups to rent out an auditorium with the space to spread out and social distance. (Courtesy photo: Cinépolis)

Luis Olloqui, CEO of Cinépolis USA – which is based in Dallas – said mostly families have signed up for the events, seizing the opportunity to host missed opportunities for birthdays or graduations. One mom even rented out an entire auditorium so that her two sons can play video games on the big screen.

Olloqui said the idea allowed them to slowly bring guests back into the theater in a safe and controlled environment.

“They’re not having the chance to be around other people they don’t know. So it’s a very controlled way for everyone to stay safe,” he said.

There are limited spots available at each location to allow for safe social distancing. Guest arrival times are strictly enforced so that groups do no have contact in the lobby. Even when they enter the auditoriums, they are asked to sit in pods no larger than 6, per Texas requirements.

The events were only scheduled for two weekends in May and the next event is booked up this weekend. However, there’s a strong possibility the theater could expand the program beyond that.

The purpose of the quarantine crew events are multi-fold. Olloqui said for one, it’s a way to innovate and adapt to a difficult economic climate when businesses were been forced to shut down for two months. The Better Business Bureau said companies must be willing to change their business model to ride the wave of economic uncertainty during the pandemic.

Earlier in the shutdown, the theater also did curbside pick-up for movie-popcorn as a way to stay busy and connect with customers.

“I think it’s very important that we adapt because most likely after this crisis is over, the retail and entertainment world will be a little different,” said Olloqui. “Also, to keep everyone working, thinking and trying to come up with different ways so we can bring in revenue to the company.”

Although Gov. Greg Abbott included movie theaters as part of the first phases of reopening the Texas economy earlier this month, the capacity limits are just too difficult for multi-screen theaters to work safely and efficiently.

“Right now, running the theater at 25% capacity doesn't make a lot of economic sense or financial sense,” said Olloqui.

And perhaps most importantly, the quarantine crew events allow for employees to practice new safety protocols that they'll be using when the real and more full-scale re-opening takes place this summer.

“We’ve been planning this for a few weeks because we knew eventually, we are going to start opening. We are observing all the guidelines that we get from the federal government and local authorities,” said Olloqui.

Employees are practicing new safety protocols in a controlled environment through the soft opening at Cinépolis locations in Dallas and Austin. (Courtesy photo: Cinépolis)

He said his theaters will most likely begin opening in late June or early July.

Others might follow a similar suit, coinciding with summer movie releases and a change in the capacity limits on theaters.

“The whole industry, we’re waiting to have big movies come out. I think having a release is a way to really kick off this new world that we’re living in,” said Olloqui.

Some of the safety measures he said you'll see include seats marked as ‘sanitized’ so you know which ones are safe to sit in. There will also be limits on groups, frequent cleaning and requirements to social distance.

“We usually have a very strict policy of cleaning the auditorium, the restrooms and the lobby but now it will be enhanced,” said Olloqui. “Those are the little things that you start doing that makes a difference so that all of our clients feel safe. But also we need to be absolutely sure that all of our employees feel safe.”

Gloves, masks, cleaning supplies, sanitizer and temperature checks will be provided to employees, according to Olloqui. Hand sanitizer will also be made available to guests.

Depending on the theater, some companies might have to figure out how to structure the auditorium for safe seating. Other movie houses already have the spacing that allows for that.

“The good thing about our theaters is that we have recliners -- the distance between one row and the other is already six feet. Our seats are also wider. So that really helps in keeping more distance inside the auditorium,” said Olloqui.

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