Movie Theater Industry Will Rebound After Coronavirus Subsides, NATO Assures

Trade organization for theater owners says it remains confident studios will bring their films to theaters

Last Updated: March 17, 2020 @ 1:19 PM

The National Association of Theatre Owners released a new statement on Tuesday in response to the wave of theater closures in the U.S., stating confidence that the exhibition industry will quickly rebound once the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

The statement comes a day after various movie chains — from national companies like AMC and Regal to premium chains like Alamo Drafthouse and Landmark — announced that they would be closing all their locations nationwide to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Companies announced their closures one after another following an announcement from the White House advising that the public avoid mass gatherings of more than 10 people.

Meanwhile, Universal announced that their upcoming animated film “Trolls World Tour” would be available for digital rental on April 10, the date of its theatrical release. The studio also announced that it would cut the theatrical window of current releases like “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt” and make them available for home release as early as this Friday. Warner Bros. followed suit, announcing they would put “Birds of Prey” up for video on-demand earlier than expected.

It’s the first time that legacy studios have made a serious move against the exclusive theatrical window that NATO and theater owners everywhere have fought to defend. But NATO assures that this will not become a new normal.

“Although there has been speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming, such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles,” read the statement. “To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world. While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal.”

NATO also believes that whenever business can return to normal, there will be a quick rebound for theaters. Many postponed films will be moved into new theatrical slots — as has already happened with the James Bond film “No Time to Die” — and the plethora of new films are expected to bring audiences back.

The social nature of human beings – the thing that exposes us to contagion, and that makes it so difficult to change behavior in response to pandemic threats – is also the thing that gives us confidence in the future. People will return to movie theaters because that is who people are,” NATO says. “When they return they will rediscover a cutting edge, immersive entertainment experience that they have been forcefully reminded they cannot replicate at home. In the uncertain, difficult economy ahead, movie theaters will fill the role they always have in boom times and in recessions – the most popular, affordable entertainment available outside the home.”

The full statement can be read below:

With the pandemic Coronavirus outbreak, the world is facing a difficult and trying time. As the virus takes hold in different regions at different times and in varying degrees of severity, people and public health officials are grappling with decisions about when to close public-facing businesses and when to restrict personal activity. As with other businesses that serve large groups of people, movie theaters have faced voluntary and mandated restrictions and closures. The majority of movie theaters have now closed. This industry will continue to meet its responsibilities to the public and will abide by public health mandates and adapt to local conditions.

Our partners in movie distribution have postponed major new releases in response to the Coronavirus situation in markets around the world. Other titles beyond the immediate horizon have not changed their release dates.

Although there has been speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming, such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles. To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world. While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal.

When those titles are rescheduled, they will make for an even fuller slate of offerings than normal as they are slotted into an already robust release schedule later in the year.

No one can precisely predict when public life will return to normal, but it will return. The social nature of human beings – the thing that exposes us to contagion, and that makes it so difficult to change behavior in response to pandemic threats – is also the thing that gives us confidence in the future. People will return to movie theaters because that is who people are. When they return they will rediscover a cutting edge, immersive entertainment experience that they have been forcefully reminded they cannot replicate at home. In the uncertain, difficult economy ahead, movie theaters will fill the role they always have in boom times and in recessions – the most popular, affordable entertainment available outside the home.

While movie theaters will suffer some financial harm in the near term, and many of their 150,000 employees will face personal hardship, when this crisis passes and people return to their hard-wired social nature, movie theaters will be there for them as they have always been, with a full slate of movies far into the future.

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