UPDATE AFTER EXCLUSIVE: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said movie theaters in New York City will be brought into line with the rest of New York state as of March 5, when they will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity with no more than 50 people per screen, masks, social distancing and other protocols.
The guidelines include air filtration and purification standards previously specified by the Department of Health.
Officials at Cuomo’s press briefing today said no Covid-19 testing will be required, as is the case for large arenas like Madison Square Garden and Barclay’s Center that can reopen later in February. Cinemas in New York City will follow the same guidance put in place for movie theaters in the rest of New York state back in October.
Keeping one of the nation’s biggest movie markets dark for almost a full year has crippled global theatrical release schedules. As Covid rates fall, recently hitting their lowest levels since November — before the holiday surge — theater owners had been watching with dismay as other venues in the city were allowed to reopen.
AMC Entertainment, the nation’s biggest chain and the largest movie theatre exhibitor in New York City, said it will reopen all 13 of our its locations promptly on March 5. “Governor Cuomo’s announcement that movie theatres can reopen in New York City in the first week of March is another important step towards restoring the health of the movie theatre industry and of our company,” said CEO Adam Aron. The company’s painful journey to raise the cash needed to stay afloat during the pandemic has been highly public.
AMC reopened its first theaters in August and said it has “welcomed back nearly 10 million moviegoers nationwide without a single reported case of COVID-19 transmission among moviegoers at our theatres. We look forward to welcoming back our New York City guests to the big seats, big sounds and big screens that are only possible at a movie theatre.”
AMC shares surged nearly 15% during Monday’s session and 7% in late trading. Cinemark and Imax followed, both closing up about 6%. Marcus gained 4%.
Cuomo announced the reopening news early in the briefing without a date attached, so those on the call — including NATO New York President and CEO of family-owned Bowtie Cinemas Joe Masher and other industryites — who had waited so long already, had to wait until the end the call when a journalist asked. Cuomo didn’t have the date, but another official did.
“With New York City reopening, the studios will hopefully have more confidence to keep their release dates as planned, which is a huge step in the process of recovery for the entire exhibition industry,” Masher said. He said the 25% capacity is problematic for many chains and NATO is asking the governor’s office to increase it in luxury recliner-seated auditoriums in the city from 25% to 50%. Those are theaters that have had their capacities “drastically reduced” by virtue of the larger seating.
“Again, zero cases! Get ready, New York, we’re coming back!” Masher said.
National NATO, in a separate statement, emphasized the “stringent, voluntary health and safety protocols that have made it possible for cinemas across the country to operate safely and responsibly at higher capacity limits for many months without a single outbreak of COVID-19 being traced to movie theaters.
“New York City is a major market for moviegoing in the U.S.; re-opening there gives confidence to film distributors in setting and holding their theatrical release dates, and is an important step in the recovery of the entire industry. We look forward to expanding the capacity from 25% to 50% in the very near future so that theatres can operate profitably,” it said.
AMC reopened with what it calls Safe & Clean policies and protocols, developed in consultation with Clorox and with current and former faculty at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. It includes social distancing and automatic seat blocking in each auditorium, mandatory mask wearing, and upgraded air filtration with MERV-13 air filters and other important health, sanitization and cleanliness efforts. NATO’s CinemaSafe Program of safety protocols was the blueprint followed by theater owners.
Cuomo’s NYC theater announcement comes as the state’s 7-day average percentage of positive Covid test results continues to fall, with the state registering 3.52% on Sunday. For New York City, the figure was 4.48% (Manhattan is the lowest of the five boroughs at 2.28%). “Behavior matters,” said Cuomo, who has been a strict enforcer of masks and other protocols and reopened slowly — although, again, leaving theaters until particularly late in the process in both rounds.
Billiard halls can also reopen statewide on March 5. Weddings and catered events can resume March 15, said Cuomo — who is navigating the reopening embroiled in a scandal over how the state reported nursing home Covid deaths.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 11:41 AM: We’re hearing from well-placed sources that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could finally give the go-ahead today that New York City movie theaters will be allowed to reopen after being shuttered for close to a year, since mid-March 2020. We don’t have the details in which shape or form yet. It could be that the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens open first before Manhattan. In the same breath, our sources say that you never know with Cuomo: He’s full of surprises. Hence, if nothing happens today, well, then that’s possible and it’s a continued fight between exhibition and the NY State Governor.
Another source tells us that it will be three weeks before New York City theaters reopen. Again, let’s see what happens out of this press phoner today.
Exhibitors have been shocked that Cuomo hasn’t given the OK yet for New York City theaters after permitting sporting arenas, amusement parks, in-door family recreation centers, etc. to reopen at capacity limits, as well as allowing New York City restaurants to increase indoor dining capacity to 35% starting this Friday, Feb. 26.
Exhibition’s fight with Cuomo has been epic during Covid: Movie theaters behind the scenes have received the help from Tenet filmmaker Christopher Nolan and Tribeca Film Festival Boss Jane Rosenthal in talking sense to Cuomo. When Covid case numbers were improving back in October, he allowed certain counties to reopen, however, only 62 out of the state’s 280 cinemas have their lights on. No. 2 exhibitor Regal has decided to stay closed until the major movie studios put out more product and aren’t messing around with the theatrical window. Last summer, major exhibitors AMC, Regal and Cinemark joined forces and filed a federal lawsuit against New Jersey to reopen during Covid-19, but lost that bidding. At the end of August, New Jersey finally reopened movie theaters in time for Warner Bros.’ Tenet at a 25% capacity.
Again, fingers crossed that theaters finally open in NYC. We’ll know real soon.