COVID-19

For $100, you can get a movie theater for just you and your quarantine pod

Jasmine Garsd Oct 29, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Moviegoers watch a film at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. While theaters are reopening, dragging box office numbers are spooking studios. Tom Cooper/Getty Images
COVID-19

For $100, you can get a movie theater for just you and your quarantine pod

Jasmine Garsd Oct 29, 2020
Moviegoers watch a film at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. While theaters are reopening, dragging box office numbers are spooking studios. Tom Cooper/Getty Images
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Earlier this month, Regal Cinemas closed down all of its theaters, temporarily, it says, because of lockdowns and people skittish about going to the movies. Other chains, however, are trying everything they can to get those people in the door.

Kari Larson used to love going to the movies.

“We go two to three times a month, easily,” Larson said.

She lives outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota and misses the escape. So she was pretty excited when she found out out her local AMC was offering to rent out theaters to private parties.

“It was actually probably ridiculous how excited I was when I walked into the theater,” she said.

Theater chains like AMC, Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema are renting out entire screens to a few dozen guests. The prices vary: Classics go for as little as $100, but watching “Tenet” with your pod can cost up to $350.

It’s a strategy national chains are turning to as most major movies are getting postponed.

“Without major new product to kind of build that momentum, it’s hard for a lot of theater owners to get back on their feet as quickly as hoped,” said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with Boxoffice Pro.

It also helps that you can control who’s sitting next to you. The idea of going to the movies with a bunch of strangers might give you the jitters. But sitting next to people you know have been taking precautions? To Larson, that felt a lot safer, “because I knew it was private, and I knew it was just whoever was in our bubble,” she said.

She went with seven people, friends and family. And for $99 they watched “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It coincided with her daughter’s 10th birthday.

“Those birthdays always cost between $200 and $300, and so this actually felt like a bargain,” Larson said with a laugh.

About one-third of Alamo Drafthouse’s revenue right now is coming from private rentals, according to Kristen Wheaton, the company’s vice president of venue experience.

“It’s been a real glimmer of hope for us,” Wheaton said. “We’re booking hundreds of events each week.”

AMC and Cinemark did not respond to interview requests.

Professor Arun Sharma, who teaches marketing at the University of Miami, said these rentals are a creative temporary relief, but not a rescue.

“The things that’ll take theaters through has to be the opening of theaters, which is happening now,” Sharma said. “But more importantly, the release of really big blockbuster movies.”

He said that until the next batch of new superheroes and villains debut on the big screen, it’ll be hard times for theaters.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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