Earlier this month, B&B Theatres, the sixth largest exhibitor in the U.S., opened its latest facility, the newly renovated Blacksburg 11 theatre in Blacksburg, Virginia. B&B acquired the Blacksburg multiplex in fall of 2020 with a vision to upgrade and enhance the entire moviegoing experience for the vibrant college town, but the project was delayed by the pandemic. Blacksburg features B&B’s signature premium large format experience, the Grand Screen. B&B Theatres premium Grand Screen auditoriums are home to some of the largest screens in the U.S. The reimagined Grand Screen at B&B Blacksburg 11 offers moviegoers an exceptional cinema experience in every visit. From the moment guests arrive they will notice the difference throughout, with an eye-catching signature entryway that gives way to a spacious auditorium and premium upgraded amenities, to stunning presentations of expertly remastered films from all major Hollywood studios. At the time of the new theatre’s opening, Brock Bagby, executive vice president, B&B Theatres said, “We are enthusiastic about the resurgence of theatre-going, and the triumphant return of the magic of the movies post-pandemic.” I recently spoke with Bagby via email about a range of topics including the pandemic and the current state of exhibition. Our conversation began, though, with Blacksburg.
Digital Cinema Report: Your recent acquisition and renovation of the Blacksburg 11 theatre in Blacksburg, Virginia must have felt like a big step forward after all the challenges of the past eighteen months. Talk about the renovation and what was involved given pandemic protocols.
Brock Bagby: Our acquisition in Blacksburg was a major achievement and a monumental gesture, signaling our confidence in the industry and our commitment to the magic of the theatrical experience. We assumed control during a challenging time, but our team’s hard work, dedication, and innovative approach to operations and promotion allowed us to hit the ground running. The facility is incredible and features bowling lanes, an enormous arcade, and a full restaurant alongside the theater amenities. We have recently installed our signature Premium Large Format Grand Screen powered by [Cinionic Grand Screen laser projectors], along with recliners. We are beyond excited by the potential of that and many of our other recently remodeled locations that were only gathering momentum when the pandemic began.
DCR: Are there any pending acquisitions or new builds you can discuss at this time?
BB: We like to keep our cards pretty close to the chest, since a deal isn’t done until the paperwork is signed, but the short answer is a resounding yes. We are thrilled with projects and management deals we have committed to in Georgia, Florida, and Washington, along with the Fall 2021 reopening of the historic Downtown Kansas City Main Street theatre. We always have a number of irons in the proverbial fire and are entertaining dozens of opportunities at the moment. We are dedicated to responsible yet aggressive growth. The pandemic upending the industry and many operators were not able to weather the storm. As the smoke clears and business-as-usual resumes, many landlords and communities are reaching out to us looking for operators for vacant buildings. If a deal makes sense, we’ll give it a hard look.
DCR: How many screens is B&B Theatres currently operating?
BB: We currently operate 494 screens in 13 states and are the sixth largest cinema company in the United States.
DCR: Are you operating at full capacity yet? If not, when do you think you will be at full capacity?
BB: We are! It was a long road, but all of our theaters are running full bore.
DCR: What percentage of your employees were you able to retain during the pandemic?
BB: I’m not certain of a specific percentage, but the vast majority of our fulltime staff was able to stick around. We endured a terribly challenging furlough but did all we could to continue to support our B&B employee family by sustaining insurance coverage for qualifying team members and other efforts, but it was still an emotionally draining and financially stressful time for so many of us. We are beyond grateful and humbled that so many of our B&B family members chose to stick it out with us and work so hard to keep the ship afloat during the most difficult time in our company’s and industry’s history.
DCR: What measures that you implemented due to the pandemic do you intend to continue to follow?
BB: Our standards of cleanliness, service, and commitment to guest satisfaction were high pre-pandemic, prioritized during the challenging months, and will continue to be our chief focus every day going forward. We will always strive for excellence and full compliance with expert advice and regulation, but also remain vigilant when it comes to preserving the special and carefree atmosphere our guests anticipate when visiting our facilities. We are grateful for exceptional leadership from the National Association of Theatre Owners and for the opportunity we have had to bear the standard in some degree as we helped shape and uphold policies to protect our guests and also lead the charge to return to the safe familiar.
DCR: How do you respond to the people who keep saying that cinema is dead?
BB: Doomsayers have been predicting the demise of cinema for decades. And year after year, generation after generation, we don’t merely survive, we thrive. There have been challenges, sure. This pandemic year and the ongoing evolution of streaming services are changing the landscape, but not necessarily in ways that pull people away from cinemas. We are thrilled with the response our innovative theater concepts generate across varied markets. People are hungry for great entertainment; sometimes they want it at home. But sometimes – often – they want more. Creators are making content designed for spectacularly sized screens with rumbling sound and bright, crisp, presentation. Audiences seek out shared experiences and luxury amenities and great service and nights out with friends and family. Ultimately, great content can be enjoyed anywhere, but the true magic of the movies is something that can only exist in a theater.