Bloomberg Exclusive: London cinemas face empty seats as Olympics shutters stage plays

London cinemas are bracing for a fortnight of empty seats after the Olympic Games opens on July 27, losing sales during one of their busiest months, while half of the city’s theaters will take the night off.

“If we get a lot of gold medals as Team GB, a lot of people will be stuck to their TV screens,” said Philip Bowcock, the chief financial officer of Cineworld Group Plc (CINE) in London, the U.K.’s biggest cinema chain by share of box office revenue. “It will be challenging.”

More than six million visitors are set to attend the games, which run until Aug. 12, according to the London Media Centre, the capital’s official press hub for the games. Transport for London has advised commuters to reduce journeys or consider taking annual leave to ameliorate the increased burden on the city’s trains, buses and roads.

U.K. movie houses take in more than 1 billion pounds ($1.55 billion) per year in ticket sales, with 12 percent of last year’s seats sold in August, more than any other month. Cineworld shares have risen about 14 percent in the past year.

Vue Entertainment Ltd, which operates more than 650 cinema screens in the U.K. and Ireland, will be showing the Olympics for free to encourage people away from their televisions and tempt them to combine film and sports watching on the same night. The company isn’t publicly traded.

Phased Openings

“We recognized that there was a potential for some impact, but what we’ve done is mitigate that by including the Olympics in our line-up,” said Mark de Quervain, Vue’s London-based sales and marketing director. “The message is you don’t have to miss the Olympics.”

Cinemas are also shifting screening times to weave around the competition. There’s been “a little bit of phasing going on,” de Quervain said, with films opening before or after events. “We’re doing everything we can to promote cinema-going at this time.”

Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, “would have been timed to avoid the Olympics,” said Geraldine Moloney, a policy consultant to the U.K. Film Distributors’ Association. The movie made its debut about two weeks early, based on previous releases in the trilogy, she said.

Empty Stages

About half of West End theaters will shut on the opening night of the Olympics, according to Alison Duguid, a press officer at the Society of London Theatre. Shows including the Lion Kingat the Lyceum and Wicked at the Apollo have no performances on July 27. Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi will close for the duration of the Olympics in a pre-arranged break of its six-month run, said Kasey Glazebrook, a spokeswoman for the show.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose Really Useful Group owns six London theaters, including the Adelphi, said in December that the Olympics would cause “a bloodbath of a summer” for stage productions. “Nobody’s going to go to the theater at all,” he said in an interview with Radio 4’s Today program. The company declined to comment on advance ticket sales for its shows.

Some Britons are fleeing the capital. Ltd., which sells about 750,000 airline tickets a year, has seen a 207 percent increase in holiday bookings during the Olympic period compared with a year earlier, while bookings for the rest of the summer are up 66 percent, said Cheryl Jooron, a spokeswoman for the company.

By Jessica Abrahams. Originally published by Bloomberg, 26th July 2012. View here.

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