Not too long ago, movie theaters were one of the most common places people took selfies, updated their Facebook status, and checked in on Instagram. After all, waiting in a big comfy chair for a movie to start is peak mobile browsing time.

But these days, no one's going to the movies. Theaters around the world are closed, and re-openings are only happening in areas that seem to be way ahead when it comes to keeping the Coronavirus epidemic under control, at least for now. It should come as no surprise, then, that the movie theaters' "Were Here" count — the metric Facebook uses to describe how many people have posted updates and selfies from businesses' locations — has been declining.

What is alarming, though, is how much the count has declined, and the fact that we're seeing the very first decline in such things for movie theaters in at least 6 years. If movie theaters are a momentum business built on habit and word of mouth, their recovery as a business from the global lockdown will be difficult at best.

For years, theater chains like Cinemark ($CNK) saw one of the more steady "Were Here" growth patterns across multiple industries, topped only by coffee shops and gyms. Since 2015, when we began tracking Cinemark's foot traffic, numbers grew steadily regardless of season or even economy.

But in the past three months, as theaters shut their doors, Cinemark's "Were Here" count saw its first decline.

At Regal Movies ($LON:CINE), the situation is just as dire. 

Theaters are hard-hit by the epidemic, as the notion of sitting in a dark room with dozens, if not hundreds, of other people for numerous hours in the dark goes against just about every social distancing recommendation experts have issued. 

While other retail businesses like stores, restaurants, and even bars have slowly re-opened with severe crowd limitations and sanitation measures, movie theaters pose a more complex challenge, given the nature of seating.

In Nevada, movie theaters have been given the green light to open as soon as Friday, May 29. However, most chains there don't plan to re-open until June or July at the earliest. 

“While we’re thrilled to see Las Vegas springing back to life, our plans still provide for theater openings at the end of June,” Rafe Cohen, president of Galaxy Theatres, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 

As of last week, only 3% of all movie theaters throughout the United States were open, according to Variety. Cinemark is planning for a "mid-summer opening date" and neither AMC nor Regal have opened theaters yet.

Meanwhile, some movies have released directly to home video streaming platforms in what has been described by some experts as a tectonic shift in the business at large. And if foot traffic at theaters doesn't eventually return to pre-pandemic numbers, it's possible that direct-to-streaming releases could become a permanent thing.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

Ad placeholder