TWIC 2021: Katarzyna Borkowska – Chief Operating Officer, Helios

By | September 30, 2021 3:07 pm PDT

This post is part of CJ’s Top Women In Global Cinema 2021 – Redux.

How have your role, position and responsibilities changed since you were first nominated for Top Women In Cinema?

Being nominated for Top Women In Cinema has not changed my position significantly, but it has changed me personally. It is highly motivating to know that my work was noticed, not only by my boss or local cinema market, but also worldwide. Both of the nominations were an honor for me.

How did COVID affect you and your business personally?

Lockdown of cinemas was a tough experience for the movie industry as a whole, and for Helios, as well. In a zero-income situation, all actions we took were aimed at ensuring the company’s financial security during this difficult period. We focused mainly on minimizing the costs necessary to maintain the network and obtaining additional financial support, because the help from the state was rather symbolic.

We managed to maintain 100% full time employees (FTEs) which we consider to be a huge success. It turned out to be a great competitive advantage when the removal of lockdown was announced and then unexpectedly the date of reopening cinemas was brought forward by one week. We were the first and the only cinema network in Poland which opened its facilities for viewers ten minutes after midnight on May 21. Our competitors, Cinema City and Multikino, started operating a week later.

Despite the closure of cinemas, the time of lockdown was a period of intense work. Working from my home office and the lack of direct contact with other people were additional challenges. It was with great relief and joy that I returned to the office, although there are still many challenges that must be overcome.

How did your role, position and responsibilities change (if at all) during the pandemic? Can you tell us a little bit about what your days were like and what you were doing over the past year?

My official role and position did not change during the pandemic. However, it was an unprecedented situation in the history of cinema which, of course, forced everyone in the industry to face completely unexpected tasks and challenges. It was a very transforming experience for me. Every day we kept going with uncertainty while fighting for the financial security of the company.

My business life was focused around online meetings which lasted from early morning till late evening. I like working directly with people so for me it was a very tough experience and I missed meeting with others a lot.

Do you think COVID will change the cinema business? If so, how? How do you believe the cinema industry can recover once audiences are able to visit movie theatres again?

Before the pandemic, the cinema market flourished with attendance rates and revenue records. It was a period of huge investment in infrastructure and innovation, as well as of global acquisitions. This growth was based on increasing consumer interest in cinema, but also in the growth of streaming platforms (e.g. Netflix) and VOD. But most importantly, the users of streaming platforms and loyal cinema fans were the same group of people. The pandemic shut down the cinemas for over a year so viewers could then only watch movies at home.

The market position and condition of cinemas in the post-pandemic period will depend on customer behavior. As of today, there is no basis for claiming that cinema-going won’t return to the levels of the period before the pandemic. The data from markets where cinemas opened after the suppression of the pandemic (China and Japan), show attendance results equal to those from before the pandemic. In Poland, during the brief period of loosening of lockdown rules – February and March 2020 – cinemas sold about 90% of seats available.

But it’s only a matter of time until levels return, now that there’s plenty of content for cinemas to show. It is obvious that in the long run, film studios cannot give up revenues from the cinema market, which in 2019 exceeded $40 billion. I strongly believe that the cinema industry will eventually come back to its most successful years again, although today it is difficult to say how long it will take. This will depend on how quickly the pandemic and related restrictions will fade away.

What do you like most about working in the cinema industry? What is one of your fondest memories?

I love working in the cinema industry. It’s my everyday life so it’s hard to give specific examples but I am proud and have great memories of reaching our attendance targets or achieving financial success. Each cinema opening is still a new adventure. This industry is simply magic and that’s why it is not possible to name anything specific in the past 23 years of my career in Helios.

However, there were three most important moments for me, personally. First, was the opening of the Helios cinema in Wroclaw, which was our first multiplex. Secondly, when I became a board member in the company. And thirdly, my first nomination for Top Women In Cinema.


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