Cineworld files for bankruptcy amid post-pandemic dip in ticket sales

Mia Gindis, Opinions Editor

Cineworld Group PLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 7 in response to a post-pandemic dip in movie-theater attendance rates.

“The pandemic was an incredibly difficult time for our business, with the enforced closure of cinemas and huge disruption to film schedules that has led us to this point,” Cineworld Chief Executive Mooky Greidinger said in a statement.

The second-largest international cinema chain in the world after AMC, the London-based entertainment conglomerate operates theaters in 11 countries, including Regal Cinemas in the United States. Cineworld accrued $8.9 billion in debt by the end of 2021, including $4 billion in lease liabilities.

Much of this debt accumulated as the company sought to stay afloat through enduring stay-home orders. Cineworld also cited an upcoming lack of film releases through fall as another expected financial blow.

“These lower levels of admissions are due to a limited film slate that is anticipated to continue until November 2022 and are expected to negatively impact trading and the group’s liquidity position in the near term,” Cineworld said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The company also reported that it obtained nearly $2 billion in debtor-in-possession financing to ensure that it could maintain operations while it underwent restructuring and reorganizing.

The company added that none of its 28,000 employees’ jobs are in peril.

“This latest process is part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen our financial position and is in pursuit of a de-leveraging that will create a more resilient capital structure and effective business,” Greidinger said.

Like many other theaters, Cineworld is still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in a loss of $2.7 billion in revenue in 2020 and another $566 million in 2021.

Even prior to the pandemic, the theater industry saw a sharp decrease in patrons due to competitors, such as Netflix Inc. or HBO, whose services made it possible to watch movies on their personal devices.

There was hope that attendance at movie theaters would rebound to pre-pandemic era levels during the period from May to October, which usually accounts for 40% of annual ticket sales.

Despite the buzz surrounding recent releases such as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Jurassic World Dominion,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Elvis,” there was not a strong enough turnout to compensate for the major financial blows the industry sustained over the past two years.

Additionally, pandemic-induced production delays are contributing to a sparse release schedule that will likely doom theaters to a low-profit margin for the upcoming season.

Several smaller entertainment companies, such as Alamo Group Inc.’s Drafthouse Cinemas, Cinemark Holdings USA Inc., Pacific Theatres and Studio Movie Grill, have also filed for bankruptcy in a last-ditch effort to counteract financial setbacks brought on by pandemic lockdowns.

Cineworld intends to submit a reorganization plan to the court and emerge from Chapter 11 in the first quarter of 2023. The plan entails a renegotiation of cinema lease terms with its U.S. landlords.

Shares of the company, which are traded on the London Stock Exchange, were reduced to almost 86% less than their original value since the beginning of the year.

The new share price revealed a stark contrast to Cineworld’s performance in 2019, when the company pulled in a record high of $4.4 billion in 2019, according to regulatory filings.

Prior to the pandemic, Cineworld entered into an agreement to acquire Cineplex Inc., a theater chain company headquartered in Toronto.

However, the British company backed out following the onset of the pandemic. Cineplex sued for breach of contract and won nearly $1 billion, which is the amount Cineworld was fined and has still yet to pay.

The Chapter 11 proceeding would allow for Cineworld to shrink its liabilities. As it attempts to retain theater attendance in the next movie-going season, the company may pursue potential asset sale or effective financial restructuring.