The case of Multiplex: how the largest chain of cinemas in Ukraine survived a year of war
More about how it was possible to keep the business, not to lose the staff and in general to survive this difficult war year – Roman Romanchuk, CEO of Multiplex Holding, will share in an interview.
– On February 24, most Ukrainians felt shock and stupor. How did the first days of the war affect your company?
– With the beginning of a full-scale war, the activities of the Multiplex network can be tentatively divided into three stages. The first is survival, when all cinemas were closed on February 24. At that time, the company employed 928 people. The key points of the action plan were the provision of support and assistance to employees, as well as quality communication within the team. And although there were no significant resources and tools, we managed to organize something like an agency to support and help colleagues and their families.
We had to prioritize. Therefore, all other payments had to be blocked in order to help and financially support the team. And what was on the company’s account as of the morning of February 24, was completely frozen and they began to make arrangements with each individual counterparty and partner to postpone payment terms.
According to MBR, at the beginning of 2022, 198 cinemas were operating in Ukraine. The largest network – Multiplex covered 29 cinemas.
– That is, you survived the first shock, and what happened next?
– The second phase can be called the slow opening of cinemas. After Lviv and Khmelnytskyi (in March), cinemas were opened in Kyiv, Odesa, Kryvyi Rih and Dnipro in April. At this stage, there was a very serious challenge with the content, because the world studios, as the owners of the content, stopped sending it to Ukraine after the start of the war.
During 5 weeks, I had a lot of negotiations in order to agree on the supply of content to Ukraine. After all, first of all, this is a large industry with a large number of employees, which pays significant taxes to the budget. Second, we are not going to die here or lose to an invader. And, thirdly, it is very important for society, as evidenced by the insane number of positive reviews from our guests. When we opened in Kryvyi Rih, for the local community it was like a step towards victory and a signal of stability. After all, starting from June, Ukraine receives all the same from the major studios and practically on the same dates as other countries of the world.
– Our survival and victory depend on consolidation and mutual support. Are these factors felt now in business cooperation?
– Despite all the difficulties, the Multiplex network restructured and has already begun to pay off the debts accumulated since the beginning of the war. At the same time, in all safe territories, the operation of cinemas is resumed, if it is possible to agree with the owners of shopping centers on special working conditions for the period of martial law.
At the same time, it should be understood that since the beginning of the war, our network has completely or partially lost 7 out of 29 objects. In Mariupol, the shopping center was completely destroyed. In Zaporizhzhia – 95% and an examination is still needed to understand whether recovery is possible. At the same time, in Kherson, the perimeter of our cinema survived, but shopping malls are now being raided even more than before. And it is unlikely that anyone will be able to answer when and if at all they will restore the building. One institution in Kharkiv has already opened, but the other has not yet, because the roof of one of the halls was destroyed due to the arrival of the flight. But we managed to partially restore the destroyed movie theaters in Kyiv and Odesa.
“Visitors often thank us for the fact that these 1.5-2 hour sessions are a different life. It’s easier and calmer than the surrounding reality”
Almost all others managed to open, although there were certain difficulties in some shopping and entertainment centers. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t come to an agreement in the Union shopping center (Kryvyi Rih), so we had to leave there.
– Does it look like the film distribution industry is gradually returning to its pre-war state?
– It is still too early to talk about a full recovery of business. There are several factors affecting the industry. The first thing is to turn off the light. You can only imagine how much energy a cinema needs! Curfews also sharply limit opportunities for work, because people usually go to the movies in the evening. Even if the curfew starts at 23:00, you have to work until approximately 21:00, because public transport stops running in 1.5-2 hours, and the staff needs to get to their homes.
In addition, the operation of cinemas is affected by air alarms. There were days when theaters could show a maximum of three screening slots in a day. And after the start of the air alarm, visitors are given a choice of certificates for another session or a refund for the ticket. For us, the most important and most pleasant thing is that our viewers return to the movie theater again and even try to watch their favorite movie for the second or third time.
The conversation was conducted by Boryslav Leskiv