The role of home theater technology has taken on disturbingly bigger dimensions with word Monday that the country’s second largest cinema chain — Regal Entertainment Group — is suspending operations, effective Thursday.

Regal parent Cineworld Group’s decision will effectively close more than 500 locations, including 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theaters in the U.K. The decision follows a brief reopening in August of many Regal Theaters that had been closed by the Covid-19 pandemic since March.

The decision, which effectively shuts down all of the chain’s U.S. theaters, comes in the wake of a series of delays in major theatrical box office releases imposed by studios scared off, in part, by the piddling $45.1 million draw in the U.S. and Canada for Warner Bros.’ $200 million “Tenet” spy thriller.

The poor showing was blamed on the large number of theaters across the country that remained closed due to different states’ positions on allowing theaters to resume operations.

One of the more recently delayed releases was the long-anticipated MGM Holding’s James Bond thriller, “No Time To Die,” starring Daniel Craig. Both Warner Bros. and Disney have made similar decisions to delay multiple planned big title releases until later this year or next.

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With little in the way of enticing new theatrical features on the way, the motion picture exhibitors industry has felt the double whammy of having to shutdown theaters for Covid-19, as motion picture studios experiment with direct-to-home movie premieres. Following the pandemic, major films like Disney’s Mulan and Universal’s Trolls World Tour were released direct to home, bypassing long-established theatrical windows.

The U.S. Digital Entertainment Group reported in May that March 2020 was the “biggest month ever” for video on demand (VOD) and electronic sell-through (EST).

During the month, the industry garnered $596 million from digital releases, an increase of 48% over March 2019, the DEG said. That did not include premium video on demand (PVOD) direct-to-home movie premiere releases such as Universal’s The Invisible Man and Disney/Pixar’s Onward.

In addition, Trolls World Tour, another PVOD title which drew $95 million, was released in April and not included in March DEG numbers.

Cineworld is the second-largest movie-theater operator on a global basis as well as in the U.S., after AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.

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By Greg Tarr

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