AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron sees two things protecting the circuit in the face of surging Covid cases trigered by the Delta variant – its own Safe & Clean protocols, and vaccinations.
“To our knowledge there has not been a single transmission of Covid by an AMC guest over the past year,” he said.
“Most scientific experts tell you the virus will increase in winter compared with summer, but the big change between this winter and last winter is vaccinations. And fortunately the number of vaccinations, especially among the most vulnerable populations, has been so extensive that we’re optimistic that we won’t see the kind of lockdown of society this winter that we saw last,” said Aron on a post-earnings webcast.
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“We also hope that vaccination continue. There is no more important thing that any of you can do to protect yourself, your family, your friends and the country as a whole than to get vaccinated. I know that many of our shareholders are younger, think that they are invincible. It’s true that older people are more susceptible to Covid than younger, but no one is totally invincible against this virus,” he said referring to the company’s new crop of enthusiastic retail investors – millions of individual shareholders that now hold a controlling interest in AMC and have supported the stock aggressively on Reddit chatrooms and across social media. He said 10,000 of then were live on the call.
“The solution for AMC is vaccinations. I would remind you that the solution for each of you is vaccinations.”
Aron said virtually all AMC theaters were open as of the end of June. Ticket sales are rising (and will rise more after a 5% domestic ticket price hike instituted last week in part to offset higher labor costs, that he noted on today’s call). Concession sales are significantly higher, well beyond even 2019 levels.
His comments in toto are a message to studios, which insist day-and-date streaming releases are necessary due to Covid. But they are also cannibalizing theatrical releases even as theaters are reviving — a revival that could continue to gain momentum with some help. Aron said AMC, the nation’s largest chain, would turn cash flow positive in the fourth quarter if the box office hits $5.2 billion. That’s unlikely, but it’s a nudge.
“A lot of studios that have experimented with day and date say they are doing it only during pandemic times,” he said. “We know that studios are going to do what is in their financial interest, not to help out AMC.” So the chain will use all of its considerable reach on marketing and drawing moviegoers to seats as he hopes a consensus emerges “that an exclusive theatrical window is a good way to build motion picture franchises.”
AMC was early in inking a deal with Universal last year and today announced a 2022 pact with Warner Bros. establishing a 45-day exclusive theatrical window. “We are having private conversations with every major studio,” he said.
Meanwhile, AMC wants to engage with professional sports leagues and college sports organizations for rights to bring games to the big screen. Two UFC fights in July “drew significant attendance,” he said. Aron also hinted at gaming opportunities, noting that Adam Sussman, president of Epic Games, is on AMC’s Board.