UPDATE, SATURDAY 3:30PM: The National Association of Theater Owners has responded to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to allow theaters outside of New York City starting Oct. 23. NATO of New York provided the following statement:
“We are exceptionally pleased that Governor Cuomo has allowed for movie theaters in New York State to begin to reopen. As theaters have demonstrated in 48 states so far, the moviegoing experience can be enjoyed safely with strict guidelines and protocols in place for health and safety under our industry’s CinemaSafe plan. As parts of the state reopen theaters starting this Friday, it is our hope that theaters in New York City follow suit shortly thereafter. We look forward to seeing moviegoers return to the big screen here in the Empire State next week.”
PREVIOUS, SATURDAY 9:37AM: During a press conference on Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced movie theaters outside of New York City can reopen at 25% capacity, or up to 50 people per screen on October 23rd. We also hear they can sell concessions. This is in effect for all counties with infection rates that are below 2% on a 14-day average.
“We hit 160,000 tests in one day, which is a record number and the highest we’ve ever done. When you’re doing that level of tests you get down to the block level. And then, when you start to see a cluster, you oversample in that cluster, so you get even more data,” said Cuomo. “Beginning October 23, movie theaters outside of New York City will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity with up to 50 people maximum per screen. This is outside of New York City in areas that have infection rates below 2 percent on a 14-day average and have no cluster zones.”
Those counties not allowed to reopen cinemas include Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Cortland, Greene, Orange, Rockland, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga.
We’re waiting on word from NATO on this great news. But this is the first step in getting New York City reopened, which is the aorta of the metro DMA which can command between 7%-10% of the national box office. A majority of major studios following the lackluster opening of Tenet moved their tentpoles out of the fall and Thanksgiving season, in part because of New York’s shutdown.
Indoor cinemas were initially in phase 4. However, as New York improved through the COVID-19 tiers and handled its cases, Cuomo decided that movie theaters would not open, given his questions about air conditioning circulation. The governor continued to reopen gyms and casinos, while sitting on theaters. This created plenty of ire among the major studios and exhibitors like Cineworld’s Mooky Greidinger, who publicly slammed the governor for choking movie theaters.
“48 states have reopened theatres safely. Why not New York, Governor Cuomo?” blared from that strip of black that once upon a time displayed scrolling movies titles, then, for months, read “Temporarily closed.”
Cineworld was forced to close its UK theaters, and a majority of its US Regal Cinemas, because of the lack of major studio product and the fact that New York state and Los Angeles county remained closed. Throughout, New York State health officials always had AC questions. Exhibition has long defended that in addition to the proper COVID-19 cleaning procedures, they can enforce crowd control with checkerboard seating and staggered showtimes — the latter two guidelines are a challenge for Broadway theaters to enforce, given the fact that they depend on a full house to make their productions bank every night.
I have heard that such industry figures as Tribeca Boss Jane Rosenthal and Tenet filmmaker Christopher Nolan, among many others, have made big pleas to Cuomo to reopen cinemas during the last few months.
The fact that New York is allowing cinemas to sell concessions is also a big deal. San Francisco county isn’t permitting that, and that cuts off the financial life flow for exhibition. In response, movie theaters in San Francisco county opted not to reopen, despite the fact that they’re open and selling popcorn and soda in nearby counties like Napa and Marin. Massachusetts banned all concessions for roughly three weeks during theaters’ reopening, and recently allowed their sale.
We’ll update you when NATO issues a statement on this morning’s latest breakthrough.
Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.