CoronaVirus Isn’t the Only Problem for Movie Theaters

Cinephiles everywhere have complained and expressed concerns over all the movies that have been postponed and suspended indefinitely because production houses understand no one is going to the movies, even if they sit six feet away from someone.

Yet, few people are talking about the movie theaters that house the films. Why?! 

These are the escape dens for all of us. We huddle in these dark caves, recline as far as we can, collect all the soda and candy we smuggled in past the cagey ticket attendant. They provide the respites we demand from the stresses of regular life. And now, screens are dark, concessions are closed, popcorn bins aren’t poppin’, and doors are locked.

Without our butts in those seats, what will happen to them? These wonderful places of amusement are already taking a hit thanks to VOD and new productions released on streaming networks, so what’s next? Chapter 11?

A Stimulus Ticket?

Virus Outbreak Nightlife
Credit: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO…yes, they obviously didn’t check to see if that acronym was taken) is doing his own press junkets in hopes to get the attention of the White House.

“This is an unprecedented challenge to the business…We’re looking to Congress and White House to understand this is a cultural institution where people gather.”

“We want our policymakers to know that at the end of this thing, when people have been cooped up in their house for several months, they’ll need a break to go out and do something collectively that’s affordable and fun and away from what they’ve just been through,” he said. “But we still need to be viable.”

He’s got a point. While 80% of these theater chains rely on hourly employees who desperately need assistance during this quarantine, when these movie houses re-open, there will be a ticket-taking bonanza!

We miss the movies. We want all these flicks that are being postponed. And damnit, we need to get our of the house! But will they be open when we get there?

Just ask CEO of AMC Theaters Adam Aron, who pretty much Debbie-Downered all over CNBC:

The reality is we need relief, right now,” Aron said on “Closing Bell.” “Literally every movie theater in the country is shut or shuttering. There are no revenues coming in the door.”

“The country’s banking system is just overwhelmed with companies seeking additional liquidity at the moment, so we’re going to have to get liquidity from some place if we all in our industry have expenses and none of us have revenues,” Aron said. 

Nothing makes an hourly employee feel safe about employment than a CEO clamoring on live national TV, right?

A Record-Low Intermission

movie ticket sales
Credit: Mark Peterson / Redux

Despite long-awaited films like No Time to Day (the last Daniel Craig ‘Bond’ film), Black Widow (one of the remaining origin stories), Tenet (Christopher Nolan’s return), and Wonder Woman’s triumphant return, it seems less people were going to the movies.

This was going to be the worst year in movie theater history before the coronavirus hit,” says Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed partners (via Time). “This is like pouring lighter fluid on the fire.”

In fact, a recent estimate from Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter suggests that 2020 box office sales will fall 1.6% to $11.2 billion this year.

This past weekend, the box office hit a 20-year low, down 60% from a year ago. Movie theaters fared better the weekend after September 11 than they are faring now.

This May Be Your Fault Too

your fault

No wonder movie theater chains are looking for a piece of the bailout pie. This is harrowing news and cinephiles will be the only hope! Why? Because now, all of you are doing nothing but sitting on your butt streaming.

Meanwhile, Nielsen found a 6% increase in television viewing across America over the weekend and a 13% increase in the use of streaming devices (including streaming sticks and smart TV apps). 

Everything that can be done at home is getting the benefit of this virus. Conversely, when we are all freed from the COVID shakedown of 2020, we need to bombard these movie houses. See all the movies (now that we are looking at condensed timelines and release dates). And, although streaming is great, nothing beats the movie-going experience.

“As more Americans shift to a strategy of social distancing, we might continue to see increases in how they are connecting to all media,” says Peter Katsingris, SVP Audience Insights at Nielsen.

A global pandemic. An inkling to stream from the couch. And no hurry to rush back to the theaters. This is an issue for all of us. Again, few things in our nerd worlds can replace the movie-going experience.

So, let’s make an oath: Let’s be sure when we are done quarantining that we aren’t afraid to gather again, huddle up, clutching tubs of popcorn, and preparing for a marathon of entertainment you can’t get on TV.

These are the movies. This is our pastime. Just hope it doesn’t become a part of our past.


Featured Image Credit: Nati Harnik/AP/Shutterstock
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