Cineplex anticipates growth in 2021 following steep revenue decline

The company's overall revenue in 2020 fell 74.9%, but CEO Ellis Jacob says the company is "well-positioned" for "inevitable resurgence".

Cineplex gave an optimistic view of its future in spite of severely diminished revenues in fiscal 2020.

President and CEO Ellis Jacob told investors in a call yesterday (Feb. 11) that the Canadian exhibitor is “on a path to a stronger, more successful organization.”

He explained that the company “well-positioned” for growth due to a backlog of studio films ready for release in the anticipation that audiences are eager to get back into cinemas. He emphasized that health and safety remains a priority at its locations and that there have been zero claims of COVID-19 transmission in theatres anywhere in the world.

Cineplex reported a 74.9% decline in revenue in 2020, down to $418.3 million compared to $1.67 billion 2019. Its fourth quarter, which saw another round of theatre closures in the second wave of the pandemic in Canada, saw an 88.8% decline in revenue year-over-year, coming to $52.5 million in Q4 2020 compared to $443.2 million in Q4 2019.

The company has had to make a number of “tough, but necessary” cuts to reduce costs in 2020, according to Jacob, including eliminating 130 positions in their full-time staff, a $57 million sales-leaseback of its head office in Toronto that closed last month, as well as the end of TimePlay and the Cineplex print magazine.

Overall theatre attendance fell by 95.3% in 2020, with a total box office revenue of $132.8 million – down 81.2% from $705.5 million in 2019. In its fourth quarter Cineplex saw a 96% decrease in box office sales, down to $7.3 million compared to $181.8 million in Q4 2019. Food sales decreased by 77.5% overall in 2020, down to $108.6 million compared to $483.3 million in 2019. The fourth quarter saw a 91.6% decrease at $10.5 million compared to $125.1 million in Q4 2019. Food sales were partially buoyed by the use of food delivery services.

Cineplex remains in a legal battle against U.K. exhibitor Cineworld, which ended its agreement to acquire Cineplex for an estimated $2.18 billion in July 2020. Cineplex sued for damages following the termination of the deal and Cineworld filed a counterclaim. The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in September of this year.

Shares in Cineplex have largely held steady in 2021, opening at $11.32 per share today, and have increased since news of a vaccine hit in November. While Jacob acknowledged the problems with vaccine orders in Canada may cause a delay in a return to normal operations, the company remains optimistic the theatrical industry will recover.

“The pandemic expedited parts of our future plans to become a leaner, more agile company and prompted visits that were already on the roadmap,” said Jacob. “We remain confident in our strategy and will continue to take all necessary actions to ensure Cineplex not only survives the pandemic, but thrives for years to come.”