Movie theatre operators were the stars of their own Covid-19 horror film in 2020. In the latest plot twist, AMC Entertainment, which was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy just last month, said it has secured $917m in new financing allowing it to continue operations “deep into 2021”.
Adam Aron, boss of the US-listed business, says the fresh capital injection means “any talk of an imminent bankruptcy for AMC is completely off the table.” Even so, no happy ending is in sight.
The industry was in a secular decline before the onset of Covid-19. The pandemic has accelerated the shift. Movie fans and studios have realised that they can live without cinemas. With nearly $11bn in net debt — 266 times forward ebitda — AMC will need more than short term financing to make it through the whole of 2021.
Its predicaments were laid bare in filings. Fourth-quarter attendance tumbled 92 per cent in the US and 89 per cent overseas compared with a year ago. The group burnt cash at a rate of about $124m a month.
AMC reckons it can hold out through July without an increase in attendance. This assumes landlords, who were owed $450m at the end of December, will continue to waive rent. Assumptions on attendance — a bounce back to 90 per cent of pre-Covid levels in the fourth quarter — are also wishful thinking.
Even after cinemas reopen fully, there is no guarantee people will go. Hollywood executives have repeatedly pushed back release dates. The decision by the likes of Warner Bros to release its entire line-up of 2021 films simultaneously in cinemas and on streaming service HBO Max will not help.
Cinema chains may simply have to accept that packed screenings are a thing of the past. Venues will have to operate at reduced seating capacity to ensure social distancing. Mask requirements will hurt food and drink sales.
Cinema groups have grown through consolidation. Coronavirus is a cue for them to trim sprawling networks, writing off goodwill as they do so. Fewer movie theatres will be needed in future.
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