“Generals are always prepared to fight the last war,” is a saying by Winston Churchill that applies to more than just conventional battlefields. As cinema emerges from the COVID pandemic, there is a risk that the industry will be prepared for battles past, rather than new enemies and dangers. Having survived a costly and damaging two years, cinema owners must nevertheless start preparing for what lies ahead.
A truce has been called (for now) in the windows fight with studios, with the border shifting to the 45 day line (mostly). The cinema industry isn’t happy with this, but it’s no Treaty of Versailles and exhibitors can learn to live with it. The Omicron surge may have been big but less deadly, possibly also representing the last major offensive of the virus before it becomes endemic. Difficult peace negotiations remain with landlords over unpaid rent and the Great Resignation demobilization has led to significant staffing issues.
The battle ahead is to convince audiences to return in greater numbers for many types of films. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” demonstrated that tentpole titles can generate pre-pandemic box office numbers. The challenge is for this to translate to smaller titles, particularly those that appeal to an older audience. Putting out hand sanitizers in the lobby will not be enough. The fight for people’s leisure time and spend is only intensifying (witness Microsoft’s USD $70 billion acquisition of Activision), with out-of-home entertainment an increasingly worthy adversary in terms of service and appeal, not least towards younger consumers.
Yet there are other threats that can still come to haunt cinemas that are not prepared. Does your cinema have a gender neutral bathroom? It won’t be mandated, but do you want to risk getting caught up in the cultuel wars? And arguably, the biggest potential threat to cinemas is an invisible enemy, who has made itself known already; cyber security.
With automation, kiosks, a move to cashless transactions and a focus on data gathering (heck, AMC even accepts crypto currencies now), cinemas are increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats. This can take many forms, not least ransomware, business email compromise (BEC), Cryptojacking, SQL Injection, Zero-Day exploits, DDoS attacks, spearfishing and more. From South Korea to The Netherlands, such attacks have already occurred and will only become more frequent and damaging. Lloyd’s of London will no longer insure you against attacks attributable to nation states.
Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail, as the saying goes. When “Avatar 2” opens in December, hostile agents will be looking to target cinemas, who can find themselves locked out of their own information technology systems. If your IT team is not testing the readiness of your staff and system with simulated attacks, then they are not doing their job. In the end, only preparedness or luck will save cinemas from cyber attacks. And luck eventually runs out.
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Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis