Ireland’s Omniplex Cinema Group has acquired the five existing Empire Cinema locations in the UK as part of its ambition to become a major player in UK exhibition.
Cinemas in Birmingham, Ipswich, Sutton, Clydebank, and High Wycombe will open this month, with more to be announced in 2024. The Group is making an investment of £22.5 million over 18 months to acquire and renovate these existing locations and has confirmed it has secured 150 jobs at these locations.
Staff members at the sites will be taken on at their existing terms.
Three of the five sites are freehold/long leaseholds and two are operator leases.
“We’ve been looking at the GB [Great Britain] market for the last two years,” Paul John Anderson, director of the Omniplex Cinema Group, confirmed to Screen on Monday.
Significantly, unlike other UK operators including Cineworld, Omniplex, founded in 1991, is not labouring under a huge debt load.
“We have come out of the Covid period I wouldn’t say unharmed but in a better position than most operators. Two of those elements are that we have no external debt and own the freehold for the majority of our properties,” Anderson explained. “We have no huge onerous lease calls that took down, or are in the process of taking down, at a lot of the UK operators and further afield as well.”
Ominplex already has 16 cinemas in Northern Ireland and 22 cinemas in the Republic of Ireland.
One former Empire site in Swindon was recently taken over by Vue. “That was the administrator’s decision. We had no involvement,” Anderson said of that transaction.
Anderson underlined there is no link between the Omniplex management and that of the Empire cinema chain, founded by his relative Thomas Anderson. “From a business point of view, they are separate entities,” he stated.
Omniplex has its own premium large screen format, OmniplexMAXX. Its new Birmingham site has an existing Imax screen. Anderson said it was yet to be decided what will happen with this screen.
“We will see what we wild with Max and D-Box, the two brands that Empire previously had,” he explained.
Anderson expressed general optimism about the 2024/2025 release slate and the likely prospects for cinemagoing in the UK and Ireland.
His remarks come after Vue CEO Tim Richards told the British Screen Forum recently that 2024 was going to “very, very tough” for operators.
“I don’t think it is a demand issue,” said Anderson. “It is a supply issue…the strikes in the US have not helped. That is going to spill into the last quarter of this year and then it is going to spill into 2024.”
He said there “were great films out next year,” citing the Dune sequel, Kung Fu Panda 4, Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes, Deadpool 3 , Beetlejuice 2, Joker: Folie A Deux, Paddington In Peru and The Lord Of The Rings: The War of the Rohirrim among the likely money spinners next year. He also hopes the new Mean Girls will be able to pick up on the success of Barbie in summer 2023 as it is “broadly the same genre.”
“I’d be fairly optimistic there are going to be audiences coming back in 2024,” he said.
Anderson said the company will be looking for further opportunities to expand into the UK marketplace.
“These are five good locations that we are taking on. It is a big investment. Our priority is to integrate these sites. Beyond that, we are looking at further sites in GB but all depends on the opportunities.
We are a company that is disciplined in how we view sites, what we are willing to pay for them and so forth,” Anderson said. “But, yes, we will be looking at more [sites in the UK] and we will be announcing more in the UK. We are in discussion on several as well. It is an exciting time.”