And according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent reopening phase plan, indoor cinemas are in the same final Phase 4 classification as Broadway theaters, entertainment venues, museums and arts and recreation businesses.
Weren’t we all supposed to be back online in late June and early July — before the opening of Warner Bros.’ Christopher Nolan movie Tenet on July 17 and now Solstice Studios’ Russell Crowe movie road rage movie Unhinged on July 1?
First, as Deadline clarified today, Broadway isn’t reopening on Labor Day weekend, as many media outlets indicated; today’s news outlined a ticket-refund policy period through that holiday weekend. The Broadway League will follow reopening guidelines as prescribed by Cuomo’s office. Its statement today didn’t announce or speculate a reopening date.
Still, what does that mean for New York City, a DMA that reps anywhere from 7%-10% of a wide-release movie’s opening weekend box office? Its 42nd Street multiplexes, the AMC Empire 25 and the Regal E-Walk 4DX & RPX and AMC’s Lincoln Center are among the top-grossing locations in the country. Surely a studio will need them to make bank during an event pic’s opening weekend, even with auditorium capacities reduced by 25%-50%.
We hear that NATO is lobbying New York State to get movie theaters changed to Phase 3. That would put them in the same reopening category as restaurants and other food-service businesses that have dine-in service. The hope is that a late-June or early-July reopening with reduced capacities is still on target. Of course, safety for all moviegoers is key.
“The major difference between Broadway theaters and movie theaters are the size of our auditoriums,” said New York State NATO Executive Director Robert Sunshine. “Movie theaters should be in Phase 3. There’s no way you can compare movie theaters with big concert halls, sporting arenas or Broadway theatres. Movie theaters should be in the same category as restaurants, and classified as food-service establishments.”
Consider the fact that even a small Broadway venue like the Hudson Theatre which recently played David Byrne’s American Utopia, seats 954, with larger musical theaters such as the Gershwin counting 1,933 seats; the Lyric Theatre, which plays Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at 1,756; and the Minskoff at 1,692. Indeed, Broadway theaters have different configurations than cinemas, with incredibly tight seating, live actors and plenty of tourists coming through. Broadway theaters have a high overhead and must sell as many seats as possible. They can’t afford to operate at a reduced capacity level like cinemas.
“For us, we can stagger theater times, stagger when people arrive and leave,” Sunshine told Deadline. “In auditoriums that have recliner seats, social distancing is already in place. Those auditoriums with reclining seats only average about 120 seats.”
Cuomo announced Monday that drive-in cinemas could reopen as early as this Friday, May 15. This came, according to the Wall Street Journal, after some theaters throughout New York State petitioned for an exemption from shutdown orders, saying that consumers can stay safe while in their cars. Even though there’s no new major studio product, drive-ins including the Four Brothers Drive-In in Amenia, NY, will reopen with older movies such as Universal’s Trolls World Tour and February’s Warner Bros. release Birds of Prey.
Polls, such as EDO’s, have indicated that consumers will be slow to return to movie theaters as society reopens from COVID-19 lockdown. Exhibitors are bracing for that, but there are some positive signs that people are ready to get out — from reports of populated beaches to even pop-up drive-in theaters like the Bel Aire Diner in Astoria, Queens, selling out, per the NY Post.
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