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Kinepolis CEO bets on cinemas to beat lockdown streaming trend

Aug 20 (Reuters) - The rise of online streaming for films during the global pandemic will only be a temporary setback to the cinema industry, the head of Belgian cinema group Kinepolis said on Thursday.

The length and scale of coronavirus lockdowns have boosted streaming and pushed big entertainment groups such as Disney to prioritise home streaming over movie theatre releases.

Earlier this month, Disney said its live-action epic “Mulan” would skip most movie theatres and go directly to the company’s streaming platform for $30 in September.

AMC Theatres and Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures in July agreed to allow the studio’s movies to be made available to U.S. audiences at home after just three weekends in cinemas.

But Kinepolis’ Chief Executive Eddy Duquenne predicted that this would not become a longer term trend.

“What I see is that most studios for their bigger releases have been postponing their releases rather than going straight to video on demand,” Duquenne said.

He said even if the video on demand/premium subscriber platforms seemed attractive to the studios, the money made in the “theatrical window” was always going to interest someone.

Degroof Petercam analyst Kris Kippers said on Mulan: “I think this was a big one-off,” noting the payoff from online release is typically not enough to recoup the costs of production.

Earlier on Thursday, Kinepolis reported a six-month net loss of 29.7 million euros - its first half-year loss in at least 13 years. Core profit (EBITDA) was down 77% and revenues down 53%.

Duquenne said that face masks, compulsory in Belgian cinemas, were driving up snack sales, with viewers eating more popcorn to take a break from face coverings.

After months of forced closures, movie delays and lost advertising, new movies could launch as soon as the American market reopens, he said. (Reporting by Sarah Morland in Gdansk. Editing by Jane Merriman)