NATO President and CEO John Fithian to Step Down in May 2023

Fithian ends 22-year run as president of the movie theater trade org

John Fithian, NATO President & CEO, at CinemaCon 2022
Greg Doherty/Getty Images

The National Association of Theater Owners announced on Monday that its President and CEO John Fithian will step down on May 1, 2023, ending a three-decade association with the movie theater trade organization.

“It is nearly impossible to sum up a career of three decades in a few sentences,” said Fithian in a statement. “I will leave that to others. But my highest goal was always to leave this organization and this industry stronger and more effective than I found it – and more importantly – to ensure that it remains strong and effective after I am gone. The professional and experienced staff I leave behind and the culture of service we have built together is a legacy to be proud of.”

Fithian’s run with NATO began as outside counsel back in 1992 before he joined the organization full time as president in 2000. During his tenure, Fithian has steered movie theaters through immense change, including the transition from traditional film stock to digital projectors, the ongoing debate with studios over the length of the theatrical exclusivity window and the creation of the Las Vegas trade show CinemaCon, which is self-produced by NATO and replaced the Nielsen-owned ShoWest convention.

Fithian’s tenure has also seen the rapid development of the international movie theater industry, particularly in China, which became a box office force to rival the U.S. during the 2010s. Along with representing cinemas in over 100 countries, NATO has worked with European partners to create the Global Cinema Federation as its influence has grown beyond the United States.

But Fithian’s biggest test has come in the past two years, steering the exhibition industry through the COVID-19 pandemic as millions of employees were furloughed and hundreds of cinemas have closed amidst the financial strain. Under his leadership, NATO grew its reserve fund by 1200%, using it as a rainy day fund to offer financial support to theater owners and employees during the year-long shutdown.

Fithian also led NATO in lengthy discussions with health experts and government officials to negotiate the process of reopening theaters in Spring 2021, rolling out safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in theaters while adhering to capacity restrictions that varied by state.

“John’s impact on the movie theater industry is profound and lasting,” said NATO Chairman Rolando Rodriguez. “Whether in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., or internationally, NATO’s reach and effectiveness as an advocate for the movie theater industry has grown and sharpened under John’s leadership. We have big shoes to fill, and we offer John our profoundest thanks for all his years of service.”

The NATO executive board has begun a search for Fithian’s successor, who will have plenty of challenges to face as movie theaters continue to navigate their way out of the pandemic. The running domestic box office total for 2022 stands at $5.7 billion, a substantial improvement over last year’s $2.6 billion total to date but still 34% down from 2019 levels.

Over the next two years, studios will have to make harder decisions about what sort of films still draw theatrical turnout, while exhibitors will have a much clearer view of what the long-term new normal looks like for their industry.