Art and Experience: Many U.K. independent cinemas say they are unlikely to reopen before September.

A survey of the sector by U.K. organization the Independent Cinema Office (ICO), found that independent cinemas felt pressure from the commercial exhibition sector and the wider film industry to open before then, when it is not financially viable or even safe for them to do so.

While some independent cinemas may open in July or August, a majority of those surveyed said that September is the most likely date. A significant number don’t expect to reopen until next year, while some said they will not reopen until it is safe to do so without social distancing.

The U.K. government has said cinemas might be able to open on July 4, according to a timetable for reopening the economy published earlier this month. Major exhibitors such as Vue are also targeting a July opening date. When they do, it is likely that audience numbers will be limited in each screening to meet social distancing guidelines.

Most independent venues predict at least a 50% loss of seating capacity, number of screenings, concession sales and advertising revenue with social distancing measures in place. Most venues feel they would only survive a maximum of three months in such circumstances.

Their concerns are exacerbated by the demographic for independent film audiences skewing older and therefore being most at risk from the virus. The ICO noted that this is also true for volunteers working in independent venues, without whom many providers would not be able to run.

41% of independent cinemas said they did not think they could enforce social distancing measures in their venues and therefore would be unable to open, with most citing a need for large audience numbers to remain financially viable.

The 59% who did say they will open plan to introduce safety measures such as hand sanitizers, face masks and gloves for staff, and Perspex screens for box office and concessions.  The majority thought such measures would add 20% to their costs.

“There is a huge amount of uncertainty around reopening from the independent exhibitors, from Health and Safety, cost of PPE measures, audience willingness to return, availability of content. Many operators find it very hard to see the way forward,” said the ICO in its survey report.

“We will use the responses from this survey to advocate for a reopening strategy for the independent sector that makes the right decisions at the right time, for the safety of staff and audiences. We will lobby for financial support for cinemas whilst they are closed, and for support to open safely and sustainability.”

The ICO said it had 497 responses to its survey from CEOs, directors and managers from independent, community and festival cinemas.

The ICO is the U.K.’s national body that supports independent cinemas, film festivals and exhibitors.

Source: Variety