Coronavirus: Theater Owners Request Government Assistance

With movie theaters shuttered across the U.S. due to the coronavirus, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) asked Congress and the Trump administration for loan guarantees and tax benefits to help pay workers and keep theater chains afloat. The top 10 theater chains in the nation have already or will shut down their theaters, representing 89 percent of U.S. screens. NATO represents 33,000+ screens in all 50 states. The Trump administration is considering similar benefits for the airline industry.

The New York Times reports that NATO chief executive John Fithian asked that the government “consider the movie theater industry, an important part of the cultural fabric for our country, and our 150,000 employees who are hourly workers.” NATO also plans to “draw $1 million from its reserves for movie theater employees put out of work because of the coronavirus-related shutdown … [and] the movie studios are expected to contribute to the fund.”

According to Marcus Theatres chief executive Rolando Rodriguez, such federal aid is “critical.” “We are doing everything we can to help our employees through this difficult period,” he said. “But with zero revenue coming into our theaters, we need Congress to provide loan guarantees so our lenders will continue to extend credit to us, assistance for mortgage and rent payments, and to suspend collection of payroll tax so we can continue to pay salaries.”

Among the Hollywood studios postponing theatrical releases through May are The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Pictures. Most recently, Disney-owned Marvel said it would indefinitely postpone the planned May 1 release of “Black Widow.”

Other studios are shortening the 90-day theatrical exclusivity window by making “current and recently released movies available for downloading or streaming well ahead of schedule.” Sony said “Bloodshot” will “be available for digital downloading on March 24 for $20 … and Universal announced this week that it would allow three movies recently in theaters to become available for home viewing at $20 for a 48-hour rental period.”

Fithian, however, “said he believed the traditional exclusivity period would survive the shutdown,” noting that the conversations with studio partners have focused on the pandemic, not changing the business model, with the exception of Universal’s “Trolls World Tour,” which Universal hoped to release in theaters and digitally simultaneously.

“It’s highly unlikely that any theaters in North America or Europe will be open on April 10,” Fithian said. “So Universal is essentially going straight to the home with what was a theatrical movie.”