Cineplex Cuts Seating Capacity in Half for "Social Distancing"

Scotiabank Theatre Toronto - Cineplex Entertainment - Publicity -H 2016
Courtesy of Cineplex Entertainment

The Canadian exhibitor will reduce by at least 50 percent seating in 1693 auditoriums nationwide to limit virus spread and ease guest concerns.

Canadian exhibition giant Cineplex has cut its seating capacity nationwide by half to help protect guests from possible COVID-19 infection.

"In addition to enhanced cleaning protocols in all of our buildings, we are reducing capacity in all 1,693 theatre auditoriums across Canada to allow for social distancing," Cineplex said Friday in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

A spokesperson added that Cineplex will cut available seating in each auditorium by at least 50 percent. "With reduced-capacity auditoriums, we are providing our guests with the choice to sit where they feel most comfortable and safe from social-distancing perspective," the cinema chain added.

Cineplex aims to allow patrons to "naturally" separate from other moviegoers and has not yet adopted staggered seating as has been done elsewhere in the industry, especially in Europe. In San Francisco, the Alamo Drafthouse Mission has "deactivated sections of seats" in one auditorium where the seating capacity is greater than 250 to comply with new measures in California. 

The Toronto Film Festival's Bell Lightbox headquarters in Toronto on Friday said it had begun limiting available tickets for each of its auditorium screenings to allow guests to sit a recommended six feet apart, or "the equivalent of three seats, between occupied seats." The move effectively cuts the seating capacity in each of the five auditoriums by 25 percent.

Then, a day later on March 14, TIFF said Bell Lightbox will close down for a month to April 14 as a precaution against the virus spread. "This has been a heartbreaking but necessary decision," festival co-heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente said in a statement.

Cineplex said it "will shift our operational approaches as needed" as the company continues to consult with the Public Health Agency of Canada and other authorities. The move by the Canadian chain comes as exhibitors elsewhere introduce public safety measures amid the coronavirus outbreak, including staggered seating and other patron separation.

In Europe, cinemas across the continent have begun to shut their doors or greatly curtail their operations in response to concerns over the coronavirus.

March 14, 11:30 a.m. Updated with news Bell Lightbox has closed down for a month to April 14.