Spider-Man: No Way Home has broken pandemic box office records, but Canada’s new capacity and other cinema restrictions amid the omicron variant surge has blunted key Christmas season ticket sales for local exhibition giant Cineplex.
“The timing of these restrictions was unfortunate as we were approaching our busiest period of the year,” Ellis Jacob, Cineplex president and CEO, said in a statement on Thursday. Canadian provinces have tightened public health restrictions on movie theaters as the omicron variant has seen the country’s rate of COVID-19 infections soar amid fears of a post-holiday spike in cases impacting hospitals.
Despite a busy holiday period, cinemas in Quebec have been shuttered, while venues in the rest of the country have been reduced to 50 percent seating capacity. Cineplex, the country’s largest exhibitor, has 19 theaters in Quebec and Newfoundland shuttered as those provinces look to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
Only Saskatchewan has no capacity restrictions impacting movie theater chains. Cineplex has another 141 theaters operating in the rest of Canada. In Ontario, Cineplex has had to cut by 50 percent seating in its multiplexes, except for locations in regional markets like Kingston, Sault Ste Marie, Ottawa, Belleville and Sudbury where additional public health directives are in place locally.
Jacob in his comments sees the stricter restrictions on cinemas and other public in-door venues as all but inevitable given the sharp rise in case counts countrywide. “While we were not able to realize the full benefits of the film Spider-Man: No Way Home, which had the second biggest domestic opening weekend of all time and the biggest December opening ever, we know the industry is recovering and our guests want to be back in our theatres,” Jacob added as he looks past the current omicron surge.
Cineplex, which received earlier relief from its lenders after its box office revenues collapsed amid pandemic-era shutdowns before its Canadian circuit reopened, said it has once again amended its credit agreement with lenders as the financial impact of the latest COVID-19 public health restrictions impacts its operations.
Cineplex said the fourth amendment allows the movie theater chain to suspend its financial covenant testing until the second quarter of 2022 under certain conditions. “With the omicron variant spurring new mandated operating restrictions, we felt it was prudent to approach our supportive lenders for the continued suspension of the testing of our financial covenants until the second quarter of 2022,” Jacob said.
Earlier in the pandemic, Jacobs had been vocal with criticisms about government-mandated restrictions and shutdowns of cinemas for failing to account for safety precautions introduced across his chain.
“When we look at moviegoing in general, it simply does not pose the same risk as other indoor services and gatherings,” Jacob told a virtual Cineplex annual general meeting in Oct. 2020.