Popcorn-on-demand: Belgian cinema chain gets creative amid pandemic

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk past an advertisement for the upcoming James Bond film
FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk past an advertisement for the upcoming James Bond film "NO TIME TO DIE" whose release has been delayed to October, at the Christiana Mall in Newark, Delaware U.S. November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Mark Makela

February 26, 2021

(Reuters) – Unconventional ideas such as popcorn deliveries could help cinemas get through the coronavirus pandemic, the head of Belgian cinema group Kinepolis said on Thursday.

The pandemic has battered the industry, with many cinemas forced to close, restrict screenings or ban sales of snacks, while major studios move releases straight to home streaming platforms, dealing another blow to the box office.

As Hollywood waits for cinemas – a core part of the movie value chain – to reopen, many studios have delayed hotly-anticipated blockbusters, such as James Bond’s “No Time to Die”.

For Kinepolis, which operates over 100 cinemas across Europe and North America, that brought its first annual loss in at least 13 years, with sales down 68%.

But as he commented on 2020 results, the group’s chief executive Eddy Duquenne said it was working on a number of new iniatives to limit the damage – including drive-ins, private screenings and popcorn delivery via Uber Eats.

He said Kinepolis started testing popcorn deliveries in Belgium, its home market, after a customer in Canada’s Yukon territory walked in and asked the manager if she could buy popcorn without a cinema ticket.

“Essentially in Canada, it looks rather promising,” he told analysts, noting a $3 million boost at sites where they ran deliveries, possibly inflated by hungry customers held in home lockdowns.

Duquenne said that rather seeing themselves in direct competitions with streaming platforms such as Netflix, cinemas should focus on improving the quality of their selection amid massive offerings: “We need to become the sommelier of the movie.”

Duquenne anticipated a resilient business ahead, with a strong line-up on the back of postponed blockbusters, as people emerge from lockdowns eager to enjoy each other’s company.

“It’s “No Time to Die”, neither for Kinepolis nor the industy,” he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland and Enrico Sciacovelli in Gdansk; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)